Sundance winner disappoints horror fans

Alex Lasher

“The Witch” was released with an interesting marketing campaign. Trailers revealed very little about the film, but Stephen King, widely considered the “master of horror,” said it was one of the scariest films he had ever seen.

With little revealed to me in advance and high praise bestowed on the movie from such a respected writer, I went into “The Witch” with high hopes. Unfortunately, I left the theater as I do with most horror films today: witch movie poster

Story: One of the few positives of the film was a unique story. Taking placing in colonial America in the 1600s, the story is loosely based off of a colonial folktale. We follow a Puritan family, banished from their community for their extreme religious beliefs. Settling in to a cabin beside the forest, strange things begin to happen to the family of seven.

Taking place in a scarcely-covered time in history creates an interesting backdrop for the story.  The film also plays heavily on the extreme religious fervor of the times and the fear those people had of anything supernatural. When seeing the paranoia take over this family in the film, it’s easy to see how the Salem Witch trials got so out of hand. Fear can make people do all kinds of irrational things.

Directing: The biggest problem with the film is the strong direction by Robert Eggers. Most horror films suffer from attempting to show the audience too much, giving too many scares and not enough plot and character development. “The Witch” suffers from the opposite.

Almost the entire film is devoted to setting up our characters and developing the story, so much so that very little actually happens. With an hour and a half running time, only about 10 minutes of the film are actually devoted toward the thrills you pay to see. Toward the end of the film, I found myself checking the time (never a good sign for any movie) and was shocked to see there were only 15 minutes left. So little had happened in the first 75 minutes, I couldn’t believe the film was almost over.

Generally, less is more when it comes to horror films; leaving more to a viewer’s imagination can create a scarier film.

Not only does “The Witch” show you very little in the way of horror, but the little bit they do show you isn’t all that scary. Apart from a few creepy images, there was nothing generally terrifying. When the finale of the film came around, where I felt the film needed to be strongest in order to make up for the hour and 15 minutes of relative tepidity, it resorts to the cheapest scare of all—the jump scare.

Acting/Characters: With so much of the film focused on developing the story and its characters, one would hope for the characters to be intriguing.  While watching the characters battle their own paranoia along with their religion is compelling to watch, the characters themselves were hard to understand. A combination of Old English dialogue and near-constant whispering makes it incredibly hard to understand what the characters are saying.

When so much of a film is built around its characters, and so much of that information is divulged through the characters’ dialogue, one might want to make sure the characters are understandable.

The performances themselves were serviceable, with no big names in the cast. Most of the cast is made up of child actors, a big risk for a film to take, but one that did not end up backfiring on the filmmakers.

Final Verdict: While there are a few unique concepts and a few creepy moments, there is too much build-up in the film and not enough pay off. You spend the entire film waiting for that stomach dropping moment, the one that makes the hair on your neck stand up, and it never comes.

In the end, there isn’t enough to distinguish “The Witch” from the already crowded and stale horror genre.