director Robert Eggers
viewed: 02/27/2016 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA
Movie “buzz” comes and goes, and of late, that buzz has been upon Robert Eggers’s debut feature, The Witch, which won a directing award at 2015 Sundance. Once buzz dies down and films linger on, time usually offers the best perspective on the gems of the age. I’m willing to think that The Witch will hold up reasonably well.
If you ever thought that the Puritans who settled in America were a fun-loving gang, well, you probably don’t understand history too well. This small family out of England finds themselves banished from their own New England community and forced to forge ahead in the New World alone at the side of an ominous woods. They are as agro religious as anyone and getting along seemingly well until a series of disasters fall upon them starting with the mysterious daylight abduction of the infant.
Giving away too much of the story feels entirely wrong-minded. It’s a curious twisted route through agrarian homesteading isolation and a family tight but fraught in their religious fervor, fears, and beliefs. The question of where the film is going drags you on throughout.
Central is Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, a luminous beauty even in the chaste clothing of her Puritan times. In fact, I thought the whole cast was strong, even down to the little children, the demonic rabbit, and Black Phillip, the goat.
This is no cheapy horror thriller, featuring nary a jump-scare in the whole. But as it hews to a perhaps deeper and richer dramatic milieu, I found myself pondering the film’s deeper meanings. Is it in a way a coming of age story for Thomasin? A comment on American deeply Christian values and psychosis of ideology? At the end of the day, as well-crafted, cast, and filmed as it was, I felt something lacking in its more significant respects. Not at all bad, but not elevating itself above and beyond.
I saw it with my 11 year old daughter, who likes horror films. Though she clutched my hand tightly throughout, she said that she wasn’t overly impressed by the film. I wonder if it will wear well with her in years to come.