Movie Review: The VVItch: A New England Folktale – A Goat, A Hare and A Raven Walk into the Woods

The VVitch Poster.jpg

Genre: Mystery, Horror

Director: Robert Eggers

Running Time: 92 Minutes

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

The Plot

Set is 17th century New England, a puritan family is banished from a plantation. They set out to find new land on which to cultivate their crops and build a new homestead. Settling in a seemingly suitable area, bordered by woods and a brook, they start to rebuild their lives. The first addition to which is a new child, Samuel.

Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the family’s eldest child, takes care of the infant when her mother (Kate Dickie) is busy. It is during this time that baby Sam goes missing. The family starts to take strain as the mother cannot move past her grief, the father (Ralph Ineson) cannot salvage the crops and is concerned that the family will starve during the winter, young Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) cannot comprehend the belief that his unbaptised baby brother is faced with damnation though he is an innocent, the twins are unruly and Thomasin is struggling with her guilt over losing her brother and has the added responsibility of running a household in her mother’s stead.

The real question is whether Samuel was really stolen by a wolf, as the family is forced to believe, or if he was stolen by something far more sinister?

The VVitch - Thomasin

Performances & Special Effects

Taylor-Joy’s was the highlight of the performances, together with Ineson. Their rapport on screen made for compelling viewing. Ineson was convincing as a patriarch struggling to reconcile his belief and trust in the Lord with the strangeness and madness dictating his family’s lives. He tries to remain rational and create solutions. In contrast, Dickie’s performance as the mother was frustrating, as the character made me want to strangle her but I think that that was the character’s purpose. She is the irrationality to Ineson’s level-headedness. She is overrun by her superstitious beliefs and her grief.

With the exception of his dramatic death, I was sorely underwhelmed by Scrimshaw’s offering as Caleb. As the film employed the English dialect spoken in 17th century New England, he seemed to struggle the most at getting his lines out. It felt like he spent the majority of the time trying to remember the word order and pronunciation, rather than the mode of delivery.

The VVitch - Caleb.png

The special effects were few but effective for making the point. I don’t have much to say here as this was not a gory film, nor did it require the gratuitous use of CGI. The cinematography and stylistic decisions are more appropriate to comment on. The dreary colour pallet and the desolate environment set the tone and thoroughly illustrated the hardships of the period. The use of animal cast was a welcome addition but terribly ineffective considering the subject matter of the plot. I would have liked to have had more of the hare, goat and crow on screen, especially as symbols of the occult and supernatural.

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I find myself disappointed with this film. It was a great idea with an underdeveloped execution. The use of sound made for a confusing ride as the film seemed to build tension very early on but petered into nothing as it progressed. Though stylistically sharp, the film only really picked up in the final 10 minutes or so. I understand slow-burn horror, much like It Follows, but this was too slow. I imagine the pace was meant to make the viewer question the cause of the family’s psychological malady but when it’s titled The VVitch, we kinda already know the cause, and want more witch action. That said, the title and trailer where misleading as the film wasn’t really about the existing witch(s) in the woods. I don’t want to spoil the plot for those of you who still plan to watch it but suffice to say that the film is really a tale of cause and effect, in a time of hardship and few comforts.

I’ve had a number of people complain that the dialect used for the dialogue made it difficult for them to understand what was happening. Though I did not struggle to understand the dialect, I can see how this could be problematic for many movie lovers. If you do not have a keen ear for language or are not comfortable with old English, watch the movie with subtitles turned on.

The VVitch - Thomasin Scream

For a horror film about witches, set in a time of superstition, religious fervor and witch hunts, this film was underwhelming. If anything, this was more a drama than a horror, as it isn’t a very good psychological thriller either. Considering the final text explaining that the events of the film were pieced together using historical texts, letters, personal accounts and court records, I feel that the occurrences in the film were a let down. Women were accused of far worse and burned at the stake for far less than this movie showed us. It’s apparent that the filmmakers played it safe  and distracted viewers from the lacklustre plot with hyper-stylised cinematography and set dressing.  I thoroughly enjoyed the final 15 minutes of the film but it was not enough to absolve this movie of its shortcomings.

My rating: 2½/5 (And that’s being generous.)

Buy or rent  The VVitch – A New England Folktale on Amazon.

You might like:

The Babadook

It Follows

Sinister

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