Ever since the likes of “Hocus Pocus,” witches have become more of a source of laughter in cinema than of horror. With the recent release of “The Witch,” things have taken a drastic turn.
There are no broomsticks or pointy hats to be found in “The Witch.” This film has no interest in what you would find in a child’s Halloween costume at Walmart.
This film is about deep, ancient traditions that have been lying just outside the confines of supposedly civilized society for centuries.
This notion of finding evil outside of society’s boundaries is at the heart of “The Witch,” and the film even turns this notion cleverly on its head. “The Witch” poses the possibility that the evil inside of our civilizations already rivals the evils we dread from out in the shadows.
The film works with the simple premise of a frontier family being mysteriously banished from their church and deciding to live out in the wild instead. They struggle with conquering the nature around them and eventually, the nature within.
There’s also a witch out in the woods. Did I not mention that? There is definitely a real witch out there.
I promise this isn’t just an existentialist foray into the nature of evil, it’s a genuinely frightening horror movie with one of the most chilling cinematic villains in recent memory.
“The Witch” brings evil to the screen with the same jarringly effective techniques Stanley Kubrick utilized in “The Shining.” There are long stretches of cold isolation and slow-building tension until sudden instances of mind-blowing terror.
This film is a convincingly real period piece, and that realism is what makes the infrequent moments of horror so powerful. The fear presented works so well because of how alien it feels to the world we have been presented with.
This realism is the film’s greatest strength, but also produces its largest flaw.
The rigid adherence to the time period produces frustratingly old-fashioned dialogue. While there is a meticulous beauty to the words, the confusion most audiences will have with it takes away more from the film than it adds.
There had to be more of a happy medium.
That being said, “The Witch” is a triumph in most other regards, and will likely be the biggest sleeper hit for horror fans this year. Many people will be frustrated with the dialogue or the slower pace, but most will be thrilled to discover such a hidden gem.
“The Witch” conjures up 8 “Melissa Joan Harts” out of 10.