The Witch (2015)
Director: Robert Eggers
Screenwriter: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson
On the fifth anniversary of its UK release date, The Witch is still a dominant figure of female empowerment and gruelling societal tension in cinema. And with lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy taking a win at the 2021 Golden Globes for her performance in Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, revisiting her breakout role has never seemed more timely.
Set in 1630s New England, Robert Eggers’ 2015 feature directorial debut focuses on an outcast Puritan family who begin to encounter evil forces surrounding their farmland. With an incredibly talented cast and faultless writing and direction, The Witch brings together conventional horror tropes with modern folklore storytelling.
Back in January 2015, The Witch had gathered a large following during its appearance at the Sundance Film Festival, with high demand for the family-horror film filling up even late-night screenings. Co-starring Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, the film has been praised as having a fiercely committed ensemble as well as exquisite historical detail. The Witch contains the air of niche horror that has since been found in many of A24’s spectacles, with a tormenting yet satisfying overall tone getting under the skin of many of its viewers.
Then 18-year-old Taylor-Joy holds the limelight as Thomasin, the eldest of the Puritan siblings and the only threat to her mother as the matriarch of the family. As she reaches adulthood, Thomasin questions and defies her mother’s demands and her father’s stout religious wishes, and torments the lives of her younger brother and sister. Teasing her siblings with stories of ‘The Witch’, strange occurrences begin to happen to the family, with the blame being placed on Thomasin. As her family become estranged and herself confused about the frightening events, Thomasin eases into the persona of The Witch, finally realising her true existence.
Anya Taylor-Joy is exquisite in this role. Over the course of 90 minutes, she dissects her character piece by piece, extending this to her co-stars whose characters also become torn apart from themselves and each other. Kate Dickie shines alongside her, playing her mother Katherine. The two battle for the role of matriarch and both fully embrace their individual powers to show superiority. Dickie and Taylor-Joy have an incredible chemistry that is so apparent even during scenes of hatred and malevolence. The pair work in harmony to deliver a truly frightening mother-daughter relationship. Ralph Ineson comparatively envelopes his grief-stricken family with a cloud of dark desperation, urging them to pray, repent and hope for better, though “better” never comes.
From start to finish, Robert Eggers’ writing and direction of The Witch is impeccable as he so visibly expresses a family in turmoil; grieving and exiled. Visualisations of hysteria, mania, despair, depression and disorientation make for an uneasy viewing experience of The Witch that grows deeper and darker by the minute, yet one which is satisfying in its character development and compelling narrative.
The Witch is only young in the context of the pantheon of film history, but deserves a reprise for its provoking visuals, gifted ensemble and established narrative. Robert Eggers was hypnotising his audiences way before The Lighthouse and it’s his mesmerising form of storytelling that gives credence to his name. With upcoming project The Northman rumoured to be reuniting Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson in 10th century Iceland, it can be expected that there will be no shortage of harrowing tonality, crazed horror tropes and a twist on another folklore story; The Witch acting as the first insight into Eggers’ unique and disturbing style.