Favorite Movies of the 2010s: #11
11. The Witch (2016)
Robert Eggers doesn't call his film a horror movie. Rather, he describes it as a New England folk tale. I won't question the director. All I know is I sat in a theater in Schaumburg, IL, alone except for two couples, terrified through much of it. The Witch is a character study of colonial family exiled from their Puritan community. They struggle to survive on a small farm at edge of a dark forest. The crops are failing. Illness abounds. Their baby has disappeared. Rumors of a witch in the forest haunt them. The framework for a good scary story is there and much of the movie is an exercise in mood and setting. Eventually, the family comes to realize that their troubles really are the cause of witch's curse, but the movie is also a feminist revolt against Puritanism and patriarchy.
The family's teenage daughter, Thomasin, bears the brunt of the family's frustration. The baby disappeared while Thomasin was watching it. Thomasin has also entered into puberty and is viewed as a source of temptation. Her mother tries not to resent her the baby's disappearance and is plagued by nightmare visions of a crow pecking her breast. She is basically shamed by her father for becoming a woman. Thomasin faces her own temptation; one that would lead her away from her family. A particularly eerie scene occurs in the pen of the family goat, Black Philiip. A menacing voice asks her, "wouldst thou like to live deliciously? To see the world?"
Thomasina is played by Anya Taylor-Joy with a mix of wide-eyed innoncence and quick wit. Her father is wary of her, attempts to keep her in her supposed place. He is desperate to break free of whatever is causing their failures. His wife comes to resent him to. It was, after all, his behavior that got them banished in the first place.
The Witch is an odd, unsettling experience. Its pacing is deliberate, which may frustrate some viewers who will think nothing is happening. The movie's strongest moments are its quiet ones. I'll never forget how I felt watching it. Nearly four years after that Schaumburg viewing, it still stays with me, challenges me.