Movie Review | The VVitch
Movie summary: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic, and possession. (IMDb)
I first watched The VVitch years ago and enjoyed it a lot then, but watching it again for this review made me love it. I will say though, that this is absolutely not going to be a movie for everyone - the dialogue is essentially period accurate so you'll almost certainly need the subtitles on to understand what's being said and it's also uniquely structured.
My first impulse was to say that it's a slow burn, but that isn't quite accurate as strange occurrences start happening very early on, but it feels very much like the movie is dipping its toes into a hot bath to test the temperature before plunging into full-on supernatural madness at the end. As long as you don't go into this movie expecting shocks and scares like a 'normal' horror, you should be okay.
A lot of what The VVitch frames as supernatural - at least, to the characters - can easily be read as normal, but how the movie shows us these moments is what makes them seem at least a little off, along with the assistance of the superb score which enhances every single scene to perfection. The fact that several pieces reminded me of the music used in the Witcher 3 for the Crones of Crookback Bog certainly helped.
As for the characters, it's difficult to like anyone outside of Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), who both meet fates that aren't anything close to what they could've imagined for themselves. The parents, William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) are fundamentalist Puritans that do not make things easy for their family, especially Thomasin.
William is the head of the family, but is a weak man despite his fervent religious zeal and the chief culprit for the family's exile from the community to begin with. Katherine isn't quite as devout a Puritan as her husband but is still highly religious and retreats into her almost blind faith once the youngest member of the family goes missing - an event she blames Thomasin for and is harsh to her from that point on.
Then there's the twins, Jonas (Lucas Dawson) and Mercy (Ellie Grainger), who are creepy as hell in their behaviour from the very beginning. It's difficult to talk about them and their nature without spoiling the movie - although I will say that The VVitch never confirms my opinion of them and their fates are left unknown and ripe for speculation.
Going back to Caleb, he's boy growing close to or actually partially through puberty and stealing glances at Thomasin's cleavage when he gets the chance - icky to say the least, but it's not like his family live somewhere with other girls to occupy his burgeoning sexual desires. Still, Scrimshaw is enjoyable to watch in the role, and also talented enough to make certain scenes feel very unsettling to watch.
I'll get onto Thomasin in a moment, because it's difficult to talk about her without discussing the title of the movie and who it might be referring to. Both Thomasin and Mercy claim to be the witch of the woods tormenting the family, but we also see a woman - or women - responsible for some of the darker turns the story takes until the final scene blows every theory wide open.
One popular train of thought is that Thomasin hallucinates everything 'witch-esque' in the movie, core as she is to proceedings and it's certainly possible from what we witness. The isolation from society, combined with the horrible treatment from her religiously fanatical parents certainly would justify a kind of cabin fever causing her to break down mentally, although I don't believe it myself.
As for Thomasin herself, Anya Taylor-Joy is exceptional in the role and it's very easy to see why her career leapt forwards after The VVitch. While it does play into the theory above, I do have to admit that everything involving her seems entirely in her favour and how the ruinous life Thomasin is forced to lead constantly hammers her down, barely relenting for even a single moment.
But Taylor-Joy makes you care so much for her and I entirely empathised with Thomasin and what she had to endure. Even when her patience runs out and she rages at her father and how ineffectual he is as head of the family, she remains sympathetic and, based on what we've seen up to that point, entirely justified in being as angry as she is.
I really would like to talk about the ending and what it means, both thematically and for Thomasin, but it would spoil the movie entirely and it's only 92 minutes long, so doesn't take long to get through and see for yourselves. Personally, I think that Thomasin has very little choice in the matter from the perspective of either belief or simple survival.
There's also a lot of debate about whether The VVitch is a feminist movie or not and I will have to sit on the fence and say that it both is and isn't. There's definitely a reading of this movie that is undeniably feminist, but there also some aspects that counteract this view and make you wonder if it's entirely accurate - it's certainly a movie I'll continue to think about for a long time.
As for the aforementioned running time, that helps play into the strange pace at which the story unfolds. The movie flew by for me, while still seeming to last a good amount of time longer than it did. I will just clarify that I'm not criticising the movie for this, as it just adds to the sense of uneasiness that something just isn't right - a feeling that pervades throughout the movie.
One last point about the dialogue, it's northern England-accented - which is probably difficult for anyone outside of the British Isles to understand immediately, and period accurate enough that both the vocabulary and sentence structures used by the characters may take a while to 'tune into'. That alone might be enough to put some on, but simply turning on subtitles makes it a lot easier to deal with.
The VVitch is a genuinely great movie that was far better the second time through than it was the first, with Anya Taylor-Joy displaying her considerable acting prowess as poor Thomasin. The bleak look and locations and the eerie score add to the persistently unsettling atmosphere that simmers throughout before boiling over into supernatural nastiness at the finale, although the movie certainly isn't a typical horror movie.