Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Katie Dickie, and Harvey Scrimshaw
Satan is a big ole presence in cinema. From exorcism movies to witchcraft to plain ole satan worship, you can fill plenty of time getting into movies that deal with the fallen one. It only took two months into the year to get the first big horror movie not apart of the dumping grounds (like The Boy or The Forest). A full on, too legit to quit horror movie that does not go for the easy route and play for idiots. There’s been a recent backlash against this movie since it’s release into the mainstream, claiming it’s too slow and too boring and not really a horror movie. Don’t trust those people, cause this is the best horror movie in years.
The focus of this movie is on a family that is too strict in it’s religious beliefs for even the puritans. So they are kicked out of their settlement and find a piece of land on the edge of a forest where they make a home for themselves. But little known to them, there’s a witch in them woods and bad shit starts to go down. Not typical horror movie shit. It’s more emotional assault than physical, making these people start to slowly go insane and die a bit inside. They start to distrust each other and turn on each other, making it much easier for the witch to get her bad juju done.
This is a slow burn of a movie. That is gonna turn some of the lesser minds in the audience to turn against the movie, expecting a horror movie to be filled with fake tits and non stop killing of bland teens. No, this is a movie filled with slow building dread and character work. You get to know these people through their actions and understand who they are/why they are reacting the way they are to these horrible circumstances. And the each deals with the issues in different ways. But don’t let it be said that when this movie gets down to business that it holds back, because it doesn’t at all. Fuck, the movie starts with the witch stealing a baby and killing it to bathe in it’s blood. This is some hardcore shit and the movie makes every act of violence work thanks to it’s superb sense of tension and dread. Seriously, this movie is gonna make you sit on the edge of your seat and pray nothing happens.
Thematically, there’s some real chewy stuff here. I like what it has to say about extremism and isolationism. The father of the household is too strict in his views of scripture and then is too proud to walk back his views when he’s called on it. His pride and extreme beliefs force his family out of the safety of society and into the wicked arms of a witch. So the witch is both a metaphor and an actual presence in the story. They get that out of the way quickly, by the aforementioned baby bathing. The witch works as the dangers of the world. And by isolating this family, you make them more susceptible to danger. Both mentally and physically. Each member also reacts differently to the isolation. The father is too proud to admit he’s helpless, so he keeps his head down and tries to make things seem fine. Mother becomes a ball of nerves and quick to blame. The eldest daughter starts to question everything when she is the one being blamed. The eldest son is hitting puberty and looks at the only girl he can in an unbecoming way, and tries to step up as a man before his time. Then there’s the two youngest, kept out of society and basically little animals with no sense of the world. The two who could be argued are the ones to blame for allowing evil into their home. It’s all real interesting and the dynamics are great and it all boils real believably.
Robert Eggers is a first time director with a history of production/costume design. And those two past jobs are brought to life here vividly, making this world feel very real. Like we were placed down in the time period it’s set. It’s beautifully shot too, with every camera angle and cut helping to build up the tension. The music helps too, creepy to the extreme. He also uses lines taken from sources set in the time to make it all feel believable, of the time. The cast is all great too, immersing themselves into the world and crafting real human beings out of this extraordinary situation.
It’s nice to finally see a worthwhile horror movie released in theaters. It’s even more surprising to see one released in February, usually the ruptured asshole of horror releases. But A24 took a movie with real craft to it and released it with no competition around. They saw a fantastic movie with alot to chew on and some real unsettling imagery and took a shot on it. Robert Eggers made a fantastic debut here and knocked it out of the park, making something that in lesser hands could have simply been an “elevated” horror movie (aka a boring one that doesn’t like being a horror movie). If you like horror, this is gonna be a breathe of fresh air.