"We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us."- William
Due to father William being a bit of a dick on the religious front his family are exiled from their puritan community to the wilderness in the year 1630. Surprisingly this includes a bunch of farming land next to deep dark woods, oh and a ready-made cabin, did the movie jump a bunch of time? Naturally religious paranoia seeps into the family unit, and hey there's some developing sexual tension amongst the teenage kids, all rounded out by a coven of witches in the deep forest. And if you think that kind of sucks for our fundamentalists then you haven't meet Black Philip yet, who is one heck of an incarnation of the devil.
Things start to unwind quickly and dramatically with children disappearing and the freaky deaky seeping into the new farm from them deep dark woods. William naturally goes off the deep end with paranoia, his wife Katherine loses it completely after son Caleb displays some disturbing behaviour, and twins Mercy and Jonas are bringing new meaning to animal husbandry. Can the family survive intact or will they implode under the dark influences both from without and within?
Strangely this dark and moody first effort from director Robert Eggers was divisive amongst the horror community with a lot of support from some quarters and a lot hate amongst others being generated. My experience, and I definitely excuse folk from this who are able to articulate why they have problems with The VVitch, is that a lot of people instantly hate a movie that requires them to actually think about what they are seeing and which more importantly isn't cut from the same cookie cutter formula as a 101 horror flicks released each year are. The VVitch is a great horror movie and for mine destined to be a classic joining the truly great movies in the genre.
Guess we should kick off this review with a discussion of the language used, which can only be construed as arcane and true to the 1630 setting. Okay some of the dialogue taken at face value may be slightly odd, "(d)id ye make some unholy bond with that goat?", but in terms of the context it works through the narrative like glue holding the visuals together in pretty darn solid fashion. Sure you may need to get your Shakespeare on and concentrate but there's a ring of authenticity that aids the movie in delivering one hell of an experience.
Backing up the language are the sets and props and not surprisingly, given the exact attention to detail, the actors are well cast. Pretty much there are only a few locations, the farm, and various settings in the actual forest, keeping it all simple and focusing the viewer on the actual happenings at hand. The prop department deserves a huge bonus cheque for their efforts in making everything as authentic as hell; I couldn't detect even a minor blemish to the historic landscape. From the tools to the clothes to the livestock everything is pretty honky dory and rocking along. What can you say about the cast on display, perfect actors from the kids through the almost manic dad, to Mom (Katie Dickie), who plays it gaunt and tired throughout. However stealing the show is Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), who brings a naivety to her role of gradually awakening to the opportunities outside the religious fervour of her family environment. I got a real Picnic At Hanging Rock feeling from this movie, the burgeoning of female desires etc, in Hanging Rock it was all about losing social constrictions as demonstrated by the girls removing their corsets, in VVitch Thomasin goes a lot further.
I guess time to talk about the horror elements and how director Robert Eggers handles the dance macabre. To be honest the actual horror freaky deaky is dialled back to a few shocking scenes, with Eggers being more interested in producing the dark and moody atmosphere and keeping the tension to the fore. If you like your horror on the dark psychological side then you are in the right place. There are a few shocking scenes that will stay with you for quite some time after the closing credits. Everyone watched the trailer right? - Thomasin looking after the baby that is whisked away in a blink of an eye, if you haven't watched the movie then get ready for a solidly disturbing idea displayed as we learn the baby's fate. Equally Black Phillip was such a great horror concept I'm still high fiving the victims in the basement. And if that isn't enough to whet your appetite for dark musing the final few scenes will have you gushing like a school girl at a Boy band concert. I was more than happy with director Eggers interpretation of what makes horror movies tick, all about a certain apple folks and if you are thinking something biblical there then you are right on track.
Behind the camera Robert Eggers knocked my socks off, this is definitely one director you will want to pencil into your memory bank, fingers crossed he sticks to the dark genre and doesn't allow Hollywood to woe him onto dopey superhero projects. The movie remains, well, the only way I can put it is dreary throughout, there isn't colour to lighten the mood, and Eggers simply keeps it bleak and menacing. The Director offers a virtuoso performance raising the stakes constantly on screen and not for even a moment shying away from the dangerous path he has envisaged for his first movie. If you generally like cinema and can dig it as an art form then you are going to be blown away by Robert Eggers.
You know generally I like to cover the wrinkles in a movie as well as the good aspects but I'm having a slight problem finding anything approaching a problem with The VVitch, which is kind of disturbing. Okay so maybe you could lodge a complaint about the titular character not being on screen as much as you would like, but hey kids just who is that character? Okay I've got my theories, and they revolve around Thomasin, the name is a pretty good pointer right? - so in effect anything but the most superficial read of the movie has the viewer pondering the deeper meanings of Robert Eggers New-England folktale. Got to love that in a horror movie, and how this one didn't earn an Oscar nod remains a mystery, though it did win a whole bunch of Critics' awards throughout North America.
Seems every year recently we have been getting one or two great horror movies, and The VVitch certainly falls into that category. I was simply blown away by the dark intense nature of the movie and must admit to getting a kick out of a few real intense horror scenes. This one is destined to be a horror classic and will be supported by all true horror fans, though I would point out that equally the movie should appeal to non-horror lovers. There's this creeping fundamentalist paranoia that gets under your skin, excellent performances, and a Director who knows exactly what he is doing behind the camera. Naturally I am going to give The VVitch a full recommendation and am almost demanding if you haven't seen it yet that you should stop reading now and run out and get a copy. Yes I went down to the woods today and got a hell of a big surprise.