THE WITCH, is the directorial debut of film maker Robert Eggers, the movie is an impressive and disturbing piece of cinema that at times is so realistic that one feels as if you are actually witnessing the events that are taking place, it is a dread filled story and although a horror movie at times does not jump out on you as being horrific or indeed gory, it relies instead upon the actions and the scenarios of the central characters evoking a sense of anxiety and fear even at times when nothing menacing is occurring. The horror or the dread that is purveyed by Eggers is controlled with precision with each and every scene teetering on the edge the director utilising the practise of what might or could happen rather than what actually takes place. Set in the 17th Century (WHICH STRAIGHT AWAY GOT MY ATTENTION) it is the tale of a New England family who decide to leave the relative safety of their fellow settlers to set off into the wilderness, the Father plated by Ralph Ineson believes that they have to do this because the settlement and its community are not living close enough to the word of God, he thinks that by going off into the wild countryside he and his family will become one with nature and thus be closer to God.
They decide to make their home next to a dark and inhospitable forest and it is soon established that forest contains something more than Gods creatures and plants, there is something that is malevolent residing within the shadows. The sight of the forest alone sets the tone of the story line and conjures up all sorts of unspeakable situations for the watching audience. It is recognized there is a WITCH residing within the forest, but it is not the sight of this Witch that is the focus of proceedings, the movie works because it ponders the question what will she do next and what is her course of action towards the family. What also makes the film effective is the excellent cast, none of whom are names within the film industry speak era- appropriate English which itself is somewhat unnerving and gives the film credence. The families baby boy is mysteriously kidnapped literally disappearing in front of his sisters eyes whilst she is playing with him, the family become suspicious of her thinking she could be the witch and then in turn become suspicious of each other and begin to argue and disagree about everything, the rest I will let you find out for yourselves, but it is a film that will leave you affected and makes you think, the aura and atmosphere at times being almost suffocating whilst you are waiting for something to happen.
The score is by Canadian composer Mark Korven, and the music I have to say underlines and supports the storyline perfectly, the music is slightly off-balance in places but when you see the movie you will see just how well this works with the images on screen. I don’t think it is a work that one would sit down and listen to on a Sunday morning with your toast and tea, but as film music it works and works extremely well. The composer incorporates strings and also choir into the work and at times relies on very subdued nuances, clusters or snatches and stabs of music to create a suitably unsettling effect/atmosphere.
This is not a lush or lavish soundtrack, it is however a somewhat understated but sophisticated work, a kind of thinking mans horror score and has definite modernistic leanings in its overall sound and construction. The composer resists the need to create lilting or melodious motif’s to express an affiliation with any of the films characters or the situations they become involved in, but there again a love theme or emotive tone poem would be very out of place. Instead he has fashioned a sinewy sounding soundtrack, that is dissonant, atonal and malevolent sounding filled with dread and fear. His musical soundtrack is the chills you feel up your spine, the hairs that stand up on the back of your neck and the half heard sounds and fleeting spectres you see from the corner of your eye, the music in essence takes on the guise of another actor within the storyline because it creates and builds levels of tension, fright and unease which elevate each and every scene that is scored the music becoming integral to the storyline.
Korven utilises some interesting instrumentation, which ranges from scratchy and jagged sounding violin or viola and encompasses the use of a terrifyingly shrieking choir, led by folk performer Christian Duncan, that jars with the lower notes performed by the strings conjuring up a sound and mood that is most certainly nerve jangling. The composer also utilises, Finnish Jouhikko and another stringed instrument in the form of the Swedish Nyckelharpa, he also employs the hurdy-gurdy and fuses these together with Cello and Waterphone, within the score we also hear, cracks, creaks and bumps from the percussion section and a low and gut wrenching growling sound that is produced by the string section in certain points within the soundtrack.
So an interesting work even if it is not an easy listen. This is also an accomplished work, filled with originality and heart-stopping interludes. The soundtrack will be released on Milan records.