Much of the inspiration for the independent horror movie “The VVitch” was gleaned from folktales, journal entries, and court documents from 17th century New England. Writer and director Robert Eggers faithfully and extensively researched with the intent of presenting the most accurate portrayal of his time period and subject matter. As a result he has made one of the few truly unsettling modern horror movies.
It’s not that Eggers only took plot points from old records. He also sought a deeper understanding of the 17th century mindsets towards religion, family, and specifically for this story, the idea of witchcraft. Add to that an almost obsessive attention to detail regarding the visual representation. For Eggers the authenticity of the language and setting was vital.
The story begins with a family being banished from a Puritan settlement due to the father’s unwillingness to compromise his religious convictions. William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and two rambunctious twins eventually settle on a patch of land near a sprawling forest.
Over time the family builds a sufficient farm and William and Katherine have their fifth child, Samuel. Everything seems well until one day when Samuel seems to vanish while being closely watched by Thomasin. His disappearance begins a stream of unexplained and disturbing events that threaten the family and leaves them teetering close to madness.
I won’t say anymore, but Eggers plays with a handful of compelling themes. One of the biggest centers around the family’s puritanical faith. There is a genuine faithfulness to God they all share. At the same time the rigidity of their adherence and their inability to live up to their own standards leaves each of them spiritually vulnerable to an evil force lurking in the forest. And it was that same rigidity that caused them to leave the protective walls of the settlement to begin with.
The story’s slow-burn generates a surprising amount of unease. There is an ominous cloud hanging over this family. They can’t see it but we do. With each step forward Eggers adds another layer of suspense and by the film’s end the horrors are so uncomfortably realized that you can’t help but be effected. And it manages this with very little blood and gore. It is the clever melding of setting and subject matter that leaves you squirming.
It seems like I’m often complaining about the scarcity of originality in the horror movie genre. “The VVitch” is definitely original. It features a gripping story sure to be interpreted a number of different ways. The performances are phenomenal. The cinematography is impeccable. The score is haunting. It’s impossible to leave “The VVitch” and not feel you’ve seen something unique.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS