Expertly crafted but woefully apathetic towards character development.
Things learned from watching The Witch: don’t sell family heirlooms without asking first, kill your Satan-lookalike black goat (or at least tie to a post), raise your obnoxious twin children better, and don’t pretend to be a witch.
A religious family leave the New England plantation after their religious beliefs are not held by the new society forming in America. They are banished from the town and now live in the forest, only for paranoia of the supernatural to get the better of them.
There’s often a great divide between critics and audience when it comes to film criticism, and The Witch is no exception, especially with an advertising campaign that really laid on thick the idea that it was a jump scare fest. It really is not. This is an incredibly underplayed and psychological horror film, relying heavily on understated references that are taken from historical facts. Which is great. There are far too many horror films these days that rely on jump scares and computer effects.
Indeed, the film does state upfront that it has taken documented events, sightings and folklore from the time period to be incredibly precise. It is almost more of a historical reenactment than a piece of storytelling.
In fact, The Satanic Temple (which is apparently a thing) have praised the film as an accurate depiction of Satanic belief systems. So… that’s… good?
The film’s accuracy of facts goes so far as its title being vvitch, as the letter “W” did not exist at the time, and much of the dialogue was lifted from writings of the time. Costume and set dressing are exacting to the point that no one will notice… The actors as well, Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan and Split) Ralph Ineson, who has an amazing voice and featured in Game of Thrones, as well as Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw, really dive into the authenticity of the time.
So it isn’t like the film doesn’t have strengths. Strengths that critics notice and audiences might not…
But it is the characters themselves that were tedious. The film goes to such great lengths to build an intimidating atmosphere and to use the historically accurate dialogue acquired it forgets to make any characters that feel… human. This is a family, yet there’s virtually no depiction of these people liking each other in the remotest sense! While it is certainly the case that the family are strained under the pressure of leaving their home (if you watch the film, pay close attention to the opening five minutes, it is the only explanation you get) would it have killed the writing to show these people caring about each other? At all?
Then there are the twins…
These children are the most obnoxious, bizarre individuals ever and operate entirely as a means to push the insanity among the different family members. They do nothing kind; they only drive people mad. There’s no sympathy built between them and the audience, we don’t feel bad when Anya’s Thominson torments one of them by pretending to be a witch.
This total lack of any compassion between the characters makes the weirdness and supernatural things that happen feel loose and nonthreatening. Oh no, they are going crazy… Shame they were already crazy, as far as I could tell. Really the film is about “crazy family go into the forest and go crazier”. Would a super-Religious family, a family who were so strong to their beliefs that they left the safety of society for the dangers of a cursed forest, keep a black goat? When apparently a black goat represents the devil incarnate?
And honestly, who gets so upset about a missing cup?
The film is definitely more like an accurate historical dramatisation of frontier life and the folklore that existed about witchcraft and Satan worshiping. If you hoped that the bad reviews were from audiences who didn’t appreciate character-based stories… you should readjust your expectations.