Robert Eggers debut feature left a lasting impression on critics at Sundance 2015 and prior to a wider UK release in March 2016 it has been doing the horror festival circuit with positive word of mouth.
The VVitch charts the disintegration of a 17th Century Puritan family who relocate from the UK to the New England wilderness. One day eldest daughter (Thomasin) takes her newborn brother to the edge of the woods surrounding the family’s home and in a split second he is mysteriously abducted. Grief stricken and paranoid the mother (Katherine) becomes mentally unstable and this rubs off on the rest of the family as the youngest siblings start having conversations with Black Philip (the family’s goat and potentially Satan himself), the middle son (Caleb) is apparently ‘possessed’ following an encounter with a young woman in said woods and the father’s (William) harvest fails leading his already devout beliefs to become extreme. As the film plays out hunger, the apparent wrath of God and an unknown entity living in the woods takes a toll on the already fragile family unit and a mass hysteria ensues leading them all to suspect the eldest daughter of witchcraft and murder.
The film has been praised by many for its slow building narrative and underlying tension creating a psychological and atmospheric experience in a genre over-saturated with cheap scares and gore, however I’ll be damned if I can see what all the fuss is about. The script was created using text and written accounts of witchcraft from period journals and inevitably it suffers from being dialogue heavy which also makes it a very tiresome watch as you constantly try to interpret what is being said. It is then further stifled by an edit and pacing that is so deathly slow you wonder when it will all get going and something truly terrifying (or interesting for that matter) will happen but sadly it never does. The only positive aspects I drew from the film were the cinematography and attention to period detail which are both admirable and the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson as the eldest daughter, mother and father, respectively.
The VVitch is very slow, not very tense and ultimately rather boring. It has very little plot, the ending disappears into the realms of fantasy ultimately betraying the reality-based family drama that goes before it and worst of all it fails to hold the attention of its audience (someone actually fell asleep and started snoring at the screening). Universal have picked up the UK distribution rights and I imagine they are hoping it will eventually join their canon of classic horror titles, however I think they may be disappointed as it doesn’t appear to possess any mainstream appeal.