Synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Which is the greater evil? The evil that resides inside of man or the evil that lurks out past the shadows in the woods and inside the beasts that inhabit such a vast untamed forest? With modern society we don’t have to turn far in order to see the evil that men do. Grab a TV remote and turn on the news, power on a laptop and load up a internet browser to CNN.com, check out a copy of The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune or USA Today. It is all around if given the chance it envelops us and yet its white noise that a vast majority decide to tune out and pay no mind to as we try to live our normal everyday lives. The fear that lurks beyond the shadows as the sun slips down below the horizon is far more elemental preying on the wide array of emotions our minds will go through whenever we’re out in the middle of a serene wilderness. The unexpected sound of a branch snapping will send a surge of adrenaline through our bodies as we instinctively begin turning in circles desperately trying to locate the source of the sound. Now imagine in the course of taking four simple footsteps you’re transported some 400 years back in time to a point where if you hold a certain set of beliefs you’re cast out of society forced to make a go of it in unfamiliar territory that rests on the edge of an endless forest. It’s a world where their form of contemporary medicines wouldn’t be able to fight off simple illnesses and would ultimately be blamed on the work of the devil. If you’re not familiar with how to properly cultivate the earth and in your brash arrogance plant vegetables that turn up rotten blame wouldn’t be put on pure ignorance one simply had to point their finger at something as wicked as black magic instead. Wandering out into the serenity of the woods would greatly be frowned upon as you’re risking life itself. The sudden snapping of a tree branch could simply be a deer a wolf or a bear or it could be something that engorges on the fears of the unknown and is sinister beyond imagination.
Good horror films embrace the story their telling whereas magnificent horror films will use atmosphere to toy with every human emotion. The atmosphere The Witch embraces hinges on primordial elements deciding early on that its going to use the plain fear of isolation to slowly unnerve viewers. A family has to readjust their lives as best as they can in an absolutely remorseless wilderness. A mere 10 minutes in the tension is quickly fractured when the family’s newborn son mysteriously vanishes. The father is quick to blame the disappearance on wolves and the mother is bedridden with grief and depression breaking down into tears as she prays for the safe return of her child. After searching for a few days the father makes the heartbreaking decision that everyone should move on with their lives readjusting once more to whatever hardships may come their way. The forest around the homestead begins to feed off the tragedy and despair by punishing those who set foot in it. These were the moments where I found my pulse quickening to the point where my heart was ready to punch out of my chest. Subtle little instances where what could be viewed as a bit of misfortune returns with those who ventured out and like a single ember sets fire to an already fragile powder keg of raw emotion. Atmosphere comes in many shapes and forms and the way it crawls out of the shadows in The Witch is through the performances of four very talented young actors. Any respected thespian will tell you delivering a line of dialogue in the right inflection can be extremely difficult yet all four of these kids bravely carry the entire weight of the film on their shoulders. I knew almost immediately when I began making my selections for Schlocktoberfest 2K16 that The Witch would bookend the month and decided not to screen it right away preferring to wait and see where my emotions would lead. Thankfully I was not disappointed. This is bare bones horror at its finest. No lens flares or flashy explosions. No Hollywood hunks brought into the production to try and sell the film on the merits of being a box office smash. You want those qualities you know where to find them The Witch on the other hand is for those who like having a plot thread expanded out beyond set traditions and reminds us why we always gather together to tell these stories during this part of the year.
Final Grade: A+