The last several years have brought some innovative new films that have set the horror world on fire. In 2012 it was “The Cabin in the Woods.” Last year it was “It Follows.” And this year, we get “The Witch,” a buzzy picture that made huge waves at Sundance and has intrigued audiences.
As a horror fan, I HAD to see this movie. I was hoping to love it, but I didn’t. Not that there aren’t plenty of things to like about it; there are.
While the story, relying heavily on the occult and supernatural, isn’t entirely new (“The Wicker Man,” “Kill List,” and “The House of the Devil” come readily to mind as comparisons), the setting of the movie isn’t one I’ve seen before in a genre film. “The Witch” takes place in the New England of the Puritans, when agrarian lives were focused almost entirely on religion and living a godly life. The manner of speech is decidedly old English, and the manner of both dress and address highly formal. North America was still untamed; the existence of demons, devils, spirits and witches was an accepted fact, and belief in supernatural evil was part and parcel of believing in the divine. That hexes, witchcraft and wizardry exist in this world is taken for granted, and the family that forms the center of this story struggles with doubt and belief that the evil might live among them.
“The Witch” is not your traditional horror movie. It’s a slow burn – mostly dialogue-driven interspersed with only occasional imagery that is highly disturbing and effective at creating an overall feeling of dread. Grey hues and darkness are used to maximum effect here – this is a world that is always in twilight and that the sun seems to never touch. Very little seems to thrive in this environment except darkness.
Yet for all of the things there are to like about the movie, it just never seemed to quite hit that point of true terror. The best horror movies are ones that stick with you, where there are scenes that you just can’t forget (no matter how hard you try). These are the movies that keep you up at night, the films touch that primal bit of fear within you, the ones that get your adrenaline flowing. If you saw “The Blair Witch Project” back in 1999, you were probably bored for 85% of the film. But then, that final scene. Who could forget that? Unfortunately, there’s nothing like that here (apart from maybe an early scene in the witch’s cottage that was really more shocking than terrifying).
If you’re looking for an atmospheric, intelligent, and interesting genre movie, “The Witch” is a good choice. If, however, you’re looking for a good scare, “The Witch” won’t give it to you.
Louisa was unavailable for review.