I’d been anticipating this film from the trailer for months. It wasn’t quite the Conjuring-esque horror film the trailer promised, but it was something altogether more brooding and menacing. It follows a pilgrim family in New England, all resplendent with Olde English Yorkshire dialect. Within the opening scene, when the family are banished from the community, I was already thinking ‘why don’t they make more films about Pilgrims?’ It’s fertile ground: the iconic clothing, rich scenery, as much suppressed desire as you can handle and, of course, witches. We should have a Pilgrim film every year.
The actual witch is shown fairly early on, but then the film avoids plunging towards an inevitable horror film showdown and instead plays with our interpretations, focusing on the family’s obsession with sin. In his best role since The Office’s Finchy, Ralph Ineson dominates the family, but it is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin who is the focus of the film. All relationships in the family swirl around her, and we are never sure how much she is the director or victim of these.
There is hardly any colour in The Witch, it is all shades of brown and that is true of the horror element also. It does not go for vibrant splashes of gore, nor does it attempt the pitch black. Instead we have sombre, restrained suggestions, building towards final scenes of dread.
I’m not sure it’s a horror film, but it has some of the key ingredients that I like about good horror: the real story is about the conflict within families, there is slow build, we get to care about characters, the element of suggestion is more powerful than any CGI. After that possessed goats is just a bonus. The Witch is a film that people can have theories about, maybe not on the scale of The Shining, but theories nonetheless.