Perhaps the film I was most excited about this TIFF was Robert Eggers' debut The Witch. I'd been tracking its progess since it won unanimous praise at Sundance this past January, so I was ecstatic when it was a late addition to Toronto's 2015 lineup.
A family plantation in the 1600's is torn asunder by witchcraft.
It has been a while since I've seen a picture so dedicated to putting forth such an intense vision of frontier life. The level of authenticity was pretty staggering, as the director spent years pouring over thousands of pages of historical resource material to make sure he painted as accurate a portrayal as possible. And paint it he did. Man, was it rough and thankless. I think it was pretty clever of Eggers to immediately convey how fragile the family's situation was, even before the actions of outside forces.
In addition to the top notch production and costume design, the performances were on point across the board. The parental figures, played by Ralph Ineson & Kate Dickie (already both acquainted with period piece extremity from their days on Game of Thrones) were excellent, but the real stars were the children. We were told in the Q&A that casting their roles was not easy and considering the subject matter, I can see why. However, the actors playing the eldest siblings (Anya Taylor-Joy & Harvey Scrimshaw) were extraordinary and conveyed emotion far beyond their years. I don't think I've seen genre performances this strong since 2008's Let The Right One In.
|Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin in The Witch
This was a movie about paranoia. It dispensed with all the flashy underpinnings of your average witchcraft fare and focused on how such practices affect regular folk. It's actually funny to reflect on how even though we have come four hundred years, some things haven't changed. We may no longer have to worry about the harvest or scarlet fever, but we still look for the devil around every corner.
|Writer/Director Robert Eggers.
The Witch is a film that transcends the genre by being a family drama first, and a horror film second. I wouldn't be surprised if it winds up on “Horror Films For People Who Don't Like Horror Films” lists until the end of time. This was an incredibly solid effort, made even more impressive by the fact it was a debut.