Come to think of it, it’s almost impossible to count the number of supernatural stories we know of; since childhood, we are bombarded with mythological and fanciful epics that bring as the center of the plot an antagonistic and ethereal force materialized in grotesque or seductive forms, representing in most cases the dangerous seduction from which we must distance ourselves in order not to take risks. Whether in fairy tales, movies, series or even stories passed by word of mouth, it is very common to find the figure of the witch immersed in a villainous and caricatured personification, with skeletal limbs, hooked nose, warts spread over the already dry skin, and a Machiavellian laugh that instantly chills us.
Over the centuries – and especially with the evolution of the entertainment industry -, this character has undergone several changes, becoming more human, more complex, endowed with a troubled past that reverberates in his current personality and affable to darkness. Of course, falling into some historical conventionalisms is normal, but it is from all these premises that Robert Eggers, delving into his first major cinematographic work, supports his newest work with centuries-old tales that go back to the time of the colonization of the United States, the Salem trial controversies and all the mysticism of the east coast lands. It is very easy to find countless references to previous productions and even understand its importance for horror and psychological suspense: after all, ‘The witch’ it is nothing more than a pure synesthetic experience that deconstructs and reconstructs such genres.
The backdrop transports us to the peasant lands of New England, in a community ruled by the Protestant-Catholic fervor of European settlers. The entire narrative revolves around a family exiled for not complying with the harsh laws of their village, then leaving for the interior of the forests and building a new home: from the beginning, we know that this journey will not end well – the predictions are intrinsically linked to the incredible and harrowing soundtrack composed by Mark Koven, whose immediate sensations are prolonged by each of the acts. Koven architects a musical scope that mixes tonal and lacerating elements with a kind of distorted pagan chants, evoking danger at every turn. And it is very interesting to note how the music also contrasts with the scenic constructions: at different times, the family is simply sitting around the fire, while the track climbs a crescendo overwhelming.
The seemingly controlled situation in the protagonist core changes entirely when the youngest son disappears under mysterious circumstances and without warning. The eldest, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy revealing in indescribable potential), was tending to her snuggled brother under the covers, and by diverting attention for two seconds, he was dragged without a trace into the woods – and this is where things get even scarier: instead of depriving himself of showing what really happened, Eggers choreographs a fluid dance to accompany the other side of the story that doesn’t get all the attention it could. Soon after the youngest’s disappearance, we see a hooded figure (the infamous witch) who takes him to a hut hidden among the trees and sacrifices him in an obscene and creepy ritual.
Falling into Manichean interpretations is a mistake that we should not make when watching this feature film: the story is based on period tales that tried to explain the inexplicable, and the supposed antagonist is nothing more than a mere scapegoat to find meaning and logic. – albeit supernatural – to a culture driven by fear. Now, if we can remember correctly, the Protestants lived at war with the Anglicans, being constantly persecuted; nothing more natural than moving through that fear in order to rebuild the lives they lost overseas. The numerous references are constant, and even support other themes that are brought up by the script also signed by the filmmaker.
Eventually, the family’s already tense atmosphere gives way to extreme insecurity: after failed attempts to move on, Caleb, the second oldest, ventures into the woods with Thomasin to prevent her from being sent away to town. large – after all, they need some sustenance, as crops do not grow, food is scarce and they cannot support themselves. From here, the child actor Harvey Scrimshaw proves to be worthy of as many ovations as his older colleagues as he plunges into his character with such forcefulness that it is morbid: he ends up returning home days later, taken by an inexplicable fever and with his whole body scratched, dancing between the lucidity and madness. It is only then that, through an almost theatrical monologue, he surrenders to his last breath of salvation in a sequence scrutinized by pure silence.
Although the arrival of the third act represents a noticeable break in rhythm, Eggers tries to make the sensory experience worthwhile and succeeds in most of his work. The religious hysteria that affects the family is one of the main points dealt with in the work, as well as paganism and the compulsory faith that soon corrupts each of them: the patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) is one of the clearest examples of arc and personality transgression, and its presence is an essential element in the composition of the photograph. Beside Jarin Blaschkethe director takes special care that touches even religious paintings, opting for frontal planes and the play of light and shadow to compose the visual aesthetics – his leanings towards the baroque are simply spectacular.
However, the sudden change in light treatment is also a very welcome element as each character meets their tragic end: some die, others are kidnapped again by the witch, and Thomasin is the only one who, desolated by lies and the distrust of her alike, joins the forces of evil to find peace. And even though the final scene is only well constructed by the last frame – which evokes memories of historical pagan engravings – this purposeful oscillation is brilliant. The entire exterior of the house is strangely repulsive, marked by an almost dead, blue-gray color palette: the interior light is one of the only inviting moments, as if the film prized excessive security and condemned the dangers that exist outside. .
‘The witch’ it’s not like most horror and thriller works – it’s nowhere near that. So, it is normal that a large part of the public does not identify themselves, since they wait for the jump scares and by the exacerbated constructions that will not exist. Here, evil takes on subtle forms and subtly slips through the course of the story, and this is perhaps the most successful point of the feature film.