Movie: The Witch
Reel Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
Released in Theaters: Feb. 19, 2016
Best for Ages: 17+
Runtime: 92 minutes
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
MOVIE SYNOPSIS: This creepy thriller centers on a Puritan family in 1630s New England who’s torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
THE WITCH – MOVIE REVIEW:
I’m not really much of a horror aficionado, partly because real life is scary enough, but also because most horror movies default to the same old tactics – “jump” scenes, silence followed by a loud noise, spirits appearing in mirrors, and so on and so forth.
So when I heard that Stephen King called “The Witch” one of the scariest movies he’s ever seen … well, that’s saying something. This one must be really scary! But alas, “The Witch” doesn’t live up to Stephen’s hair-raising standards. Oh, there are scary parts here and there, but those scenes are paired with others that nearly put me to sleep and made me want to fast-forward to the end.
“The Witch” takes place in 17th-century New England and centers on a Puritan family who’s banished from a settlement for holding religious beliefs that differ from the others.
So they set up their own farm in an isolated area near a spooky woods – where witches are rumored to roam – and go about the business of surviving under dismal conditions. Unfortunately, the corn crop isn’t great and they struggle with having adequate food for the winter. Thus, they venture into the woods to shoot whatever animals might provide sustenance.
One day, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is looking after the baby when it suddenly vanishes. I mean, she’s way out in a field not even close to the woods, and during a quick peekaboo session, the baby abruptly disappears as if by, well, magic.
Things get weirder from there, and the family starts to unravel. Thomasin’s mother (Kate Dickie) and father (Ralph Ineson) grow suspicious of their children, especially after Thomasin is caught playing “witch” games with her younger brother and sister. Animals start acting odd, the already-creepy kids get even creepier, and yet another of the kids vanishes. Could there really be an evil witch in the woods? Or is one of the kids, in fact, a witch?
First, let me say that there’s a lot to like about this thriller. Anything involving 17th Century Puritans automatically has a built-in creep factor. Thomasin’s younger siblings are ultra creepy to begin with, and even moreso with speech patterns that include “thy,” “thou,” “father” and “mother.” The family spontaneously breaks into prayer several times a day.
In fact, the whole atmosphere of “The Witch” is something out of a classic Ingmar Bergman film, complete with authentic woolen clothing (washed in the river, natch), diehard religious beliefs, and super-gloomy sets. And everything has a blanket of darkness over it. Seriously, sometimes it’s so dark you have to squint to see what’s happening.
I especially love Mark Korven’s eerie soundtrack. It’s like something out of an alternate reality. And it makes you want to jump out of your skin.
But “The Witch” isn’t so much scary as it is unsettling, navigating the Puritan world of witches and demons and supernatural beliefs. As for my aforementioned fast-forward to the end, by the time we got there, I found myself wondering, “Is that all there is?” The end credits rolled just as I was waiting for Bob Newhart to wake up from a horrible nightmare.
But I will say that “The Witch” has a sinister leg up on most horror films released these days. At least I’m still thinking about the movie days later. So there’s that.
PARENT OVERVIEW: With lots of blood and gore, “The Witch’s” R rating is on target. Guns and blades are used, humans and animals are harmed and killed, and there’s an ongoing supernatural factor. A baby is kidnapped, and it’s implied that witches have used him as a sacrificial lamb. Full-frontal female nudity is shown, but it’s not sexual in nature. Swearing is limited to “hell” and “damn.”
PARENT DETAILS (May Contain Spoilers):
Violence/Gore: Lots of blood and gore throughout. Characters die, including children. It’s implied that a kidnapped baby is ground up by witches. A crow pecks a woman’s breasts. Other scenes include a bloody chicken fetus on the ground, animals sliced open, a man gored by a goat, a girl thrown from a horse, and brief scenes of guns and shooting.
Sex/Nudity: Full-frontal female nudity, although it’s not sexual. Naked witches’ breasts and bottoms are shown. A boy ogles his older sister’s cleavage. A boy is seen naked, but nothing sensitive is shown.
Profanity: “Hell” and damn” is as bad as it gets.
JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM:
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.
Images in this review used courtesy of the studio and distributor.