We’ll be counting down to Halloween with a new post each day about our personal favorite Halloween inspired and horror movies. To read our past lead up to Halloween coverage, click here.
There’s one jump scare in The Witch and yet, this film is the best and scariest horror film in a long while because of one major reason — it’s pure atmospheric horror.
What does this mean, exactly? The simple answer is it doesn’t rely on jump scares or a lot of gore for cheap thrills. Instead, what The Witch does is provide a perfect time period — 1630s — and setting — New England — to explore ideas such as religion, myth, and the destruction of family. The film tells the story of a Puritan family who is excommunicated from a Christian plantation for prideful conceit and move to a farm that sits at the edge of the woods, wherein a witch lives. After newborn Samuel is abducted by the witch, the family faces witchcraft, black magic, and possession that threaten to tear their family apart.
Natural light gives the film a muted and organic feel to it, with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke setting up beautiful and disturbing shots. The cast is relatively unknown, but everyone’s ability to handle the colonial English adds even more to The Witch’s authenticity. Writer and director Robert Eggers drew upon how witches and black magic were seen as a very real possibility during the time period in New England. Here, Eggers expertly blends the supernatural with reality, leaving no question as to the existence of the dark arts. Add in the haunting score by Mark Korven, the mistrust and inability for forgiveness that consumes the family, and we get a horror film that’s more about our own humanity than the dark and evil forces that may surround us. Humanity’s capacity for evil and the sin that tempts us, the forgiveness that we should seek, but can’t. The Witch tells you there are consequences for these things, but also that everything is rooted in the choices we make.
That one lone jump scare in this film I mentioned earlier comes near the end of the film, when the father gets gutted by Black Philip, the black goat who turns out to be the devil in one of his many forms. The moment the father is gutted is just the beginning to a brutal scene that builds and builds and keeps on building until suddenly it’s over. Even before that, scenes would end by giving you just a little more to hold onto, despite the slow burn nature of the film. Samuel and Caleb seemingly returning after dying works to build a dread that settles in your stomach, and that’s large in part due to the fact the family, and especially the mother, really believe Samuel and Caleb have returned to them. And then, the almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of the crow nipping at the mother’s breast in a crude and distorted mockery of breastfeeding, which is one of the best examples of subtle body horror I’ve ever seen. All of this to say, The Witch’s horror is felt, not merely experienced, because of the way it grounds you into it’s reality, never letting go.