I do not like horror movies. I think I’ve made that clear over years of reviewing films, so you’re going to have to take that bias into account and I am perfectly upfront regarding it. However, if a film comes along and is critically acclaimed, I usually try to put my genre preferences aside and give it a chance. The fact that The Witch is at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes is the ONLY reason I watched it in my continuing slog through early 2016 films I missed. I have now viewed The Witch. Rotten Tomatoes and I continue to part ways as reviewing metrics, because I would watch London Has Fallen five times in a row before having to sit through five minutes of The Witch again.
Oh, spoiler warning, because I don’t care enough to be careful about revealing plot points. The Witch takes place in the time and climate of the Salem Witch Trials and is subtitled: a New England folktalke. A man and his wife and five children are expelled from a Puritan colony for preaching the gospel in a manner they found untoward. Given that the Puritans found color untoward, that is not really all that alarming. Then this idiot, goes and parks his family and builds a farm in front of a forest that is literally screaming HEY, THERE’s A WITCH IN ME! FOR REALSIES! NO, SERIOUSLY, GET THEE HITHER UNTO ANOTHER PLOT OF UNWITCHED LAND, YE DAFT BUGGER!
Again, I understand the effort to stay true to the time of the events (and the end credits claim that a lot of the dialogue and events were taken from accounts during this period), but I had to turn on the subtitles to understand what was going on in “Camp Witchyville”. This is from someone raised on the King James Bible and fairly well-versed in “thees” and “thous”, but when the family gets riled (and they are riled a good portion of the film’s glacially-placed 93 minutes) it starts sounding like someone put on a record of the Chipmunks reading Leviticus. Which would be kind of amusing for 30 seconds. After 15 minutes you want to rend thy garments asunder in lamentations.
The question of whether there is actually a witch or not in the woods (if the HUGE, DARK, QUASI-SENTIENT FOLIAGE wasn’t enough to convince you) is answered shortly after the family settles in (and I cannot emphasize this enough) the WORST real estate in New England. We’ve had our “Bone Tomahawk” moment of wildly gratuitous violence already this year in establishing that the witch is real, and I don’t particularly feel like describing what happens. Suffice it to say five children gets knocked down a member. After that, a whole lot of trouble could’ve been avoided if the family had either a) gotten into a wagon as quickly as they could chuck the butter churn in and bolted back to the relatively cheerful arms of the Puritans, or b) STAYED OUT OF THE WOODS!!! I’m not even sure “B” would have worked. This particular witch on a scale of hostility is a solid 10. Any member of the cast of Wicked would be hamburger meat before they got through a ballad going up against this witch.
After we lose kiddie #1, the oldest daughter, Thomasin (seriously, confirming that name was one of the reasons the subtitles went on early in the film), finds herself increasingly the target of a mini-Salem Witch Trial happening within her own house. This could’ve been really claustrophobic and horrifying, except PEOPLE KEPT RUNNING INTO THE WOODS, and my sympathy for the entire lot kept dropping until I think I would’ve finished them off myself out of pity. The cast is made up of actors unknown to me, and the actress who plays Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is by far the best member of the cast, but she can’t save this thing. Once the barnyard animals start taking on supernatural significance, things just went barreling on to a typical horror finish….which was then followed by a seriously disturbing little coda.
I cannot for the life of me understand why this film is praised the way that it is. I found the entire thing ridiculous, boring with brief moments of disturbing nonsense, and completely without any merit. Maybe horror fans will disagree, but this has a solid grip on the worst film of 2016.