Sundance 2015: ‘The Witch’ captures a haunting and superstitious America
In America’s short history, few decades spawned more morbid-tales of superstition and despair than the 1600s. For those of us that lived in the North East growing up, almost all of of us know of a small-town or former location of a small town, that once fell under the blinding fear of early witch-hunts or Satanic cleansing rituals. That goes along with all of the former tuberculosis and polio hospitals and medical asylums that still dot our landscape.
It’s a nightmarish playground for the imagination, and each generation comes up with their own version of what happened in these locations as they share folklore and rumors around campfires or at summer-camps. Though each town or state differs in their stories, Robert Eggers has recreated a former New England town that seems so accurate, it could almost be ripped right out of a textbook.
Inhabitants of those small towns seemed to live in constant fear, and they had plenty to be fearful of, both surviving the brutal New England landscape, and from the supernatural powers that their Quaker or Puritan lifestyle often preached against. That is where the ‘The Witch’ takes place, a story that borderlines on the haunting supernatural, and the almost psychotic-fear that drove the Puritans into tearing each other apart. Living in 1630 New England, husband and wife William and Katherine settle down just outside an immense and forbidding forest. They live their with their five-children, raising a small farm.
As misfortunes and omens begin to pileup in their lives, the family strains to stay together in such times. Crops fail, sickness and weather worsen, and when their newborn son suddenly disappears, the family suspects that one of them has fallen to the dark-arts. The fall from grace in the film is the deterioration of the Christian family unit, and that is the strength of the film. The film does take a turn down gore-alley and loses some of its more subtle charm, but how you view the transformation will most likely dictate your opinion on the film.
While ‘The Witch’ doesn’t offer-up as many ‘horror-moments’ as a traditional film in the same genre might, director Robert Eggers paints an almost hauntingly perfect setting for the film to take place. The overcast New England weather looms over the entire film, which was shown this week at the Sundance Film Festival, creating the perfect atmosphere for fans of the genre to get lost in.
According to the director, his team spent weeks researching the time-period. The team didn’t just focus on local folklore, but the actual craftsmanship, tools and materials that the Puritan settlers used in creating their houses, furniture and farms. Almost everything in the film was recreated, made just as it was in the late 1600s, for the project. From the flatware to the very boards used to create each house, the perfect details of the time-period are found in almost every major scene.
While horror-films are usually trumped by documentaries and dramas at Sundance, I do think horror fans will want to keep an eye on the film if it is released nationwide. The film was written and directed by Robert Eggers, and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie.