The Witch **

Tedious horror pic is dry and flat.

Is it worth $10? No

“The Witch” arrives with a great deal of positive buzz, and after watching it you’ll be convinced it’s all a hoax. I half expected a jerk to be standing outside the theater as people left, screaming “fooled you!” to the passing, unsatisfied masses.

Here’s a movie that spends ample time showing wide shots of the woods with ominous music. We get it, something evil lurks within. It also provides insight into farming and surviving winter in 1630s New England, and thank goodness, as now I know to stock up during harvest season so I can stay bountiful during the winter months.

The point is, “The Witch” spends so much time in minutiae that it almost always feels slow. In a way writer/director Robert Eggers is reflecting the painfully dull pace of life for the unfortunate family forced to live on its own in the wilderness after being cast out from civilization for being the wrong type of religious. The family: Parents William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) are loving and attentive, oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) also looks after her siblings, oldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) looks inappropriately at his older sister, but he’s a teenager and there are no girls his age nearby so we kind of understand why. Twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are a handful, while newborn Sam just needs to be kept alive, which Thomasin fails to do. 

The story is based on actual folklore of witchcraft and black magic, and is reportedly set at the time when these stories originated. The most famous tale of this kind – that of the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts – took place roughly 60 years after the events of “The Witch,” and one can see how the fearful mindset seen in the film could evolve to what occurred in Salem.

Yet this too logically doesn’t work. The family in “The Witch” thinks differently from the rest of its peers and is therefore banished to the woods, at which point no one in civilization ever hears from them again. If they think differently, i.e. are more God-fearing and prone to believing in witchcraft, and away from others whom they could influence and/or be influenced by, it’s hard to conclude that their mindset is typical of the time and therefore could have evolved into what happened in Salem.

Regardless, it’s all a bore. Scenes with witches are random and inconsistent, while moments of demonic possession are unconvincing. For a long time the characters aren’t sure what’s happening or what to believe, but the audience is sure because we see the witches up to no good. Having the audience ahead of the characters makes watching these people tedious, and does the story a disservice because we know where everything is headed. Why give away the witches so early? One of the appealing elements of the Salem Witch Trials, historians say, is that it was all in people’s heads rather than any facet of reality. As the writer and director, Eggers could have played with that idea before a big reveal of actual witchcraft later in the film. As is, he gives away the good stuff too soon.

Watching “The Witch” was the longest 90 minutes of my life. Spend your 90 minutes elsewhere.

Did you know?
Both Ineson and Dickie appeared on “Game of Thrones,” though they never shared a scene. Ineson played the “ironborn” Dagmer Cleftjaw, while Dickie was Catelyn Stark’s sister Lysa Arryn.

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