PUBLISHED 16 JAN 2017
IN 2016 many horror films that were released had similar styles and narratives. A lot of these films came from the predictable Blumhouse Productions who created, amongst others, INSIDIOUS (James Wan, 2011), OUIJA: ORGINS OF EVIL (Mike Flanagan, 2016), THE PURGE ELECTION YEAR (James DeMonaco, 2016) and THE DARKNESS (Greg Mclean, 2016). But if we look closer into the genre some hidden gems emerge. Arguably, one of the greatest horror films of 2016 came from the largely unheard director Robert Eggers when he made his directorial feature debut with THE WITCH. Before this Eggers had only directed a few short films, such as BROTHERS (2015) and an adaptation of the terrifying Edgar Allen Poe short story THE TELL-TALE HEART (2008).
What makes Eggers so unique as a filmmaker is his ability to subvert the clichés of modern horror cinema such as jump scares and fast-paced editing which we see so frequently. Throughout THE WITCH we are presented with old English dialogue, long takes, and taboo subject matter to create an eerie atmosphere like no other. THE WITCH is set in the year 1630 and is a take on a New England folk-tale. The plot follows a family who have been banished from their original settlement, forcing them to become isolated. As they start anew on the edge of civilisation they begin to be tormented by a witch.
What makes these events so harrowing is the way Eggers portrays them. This can be demonstrated by the witch herself. The camera lingers over the back of her body once she is on screen, allowing us to see very little of the witch, apart from her leathery skin. During one scene she stands over the family's newborn baby. The shot lasts for several seconds and is uncomfortable to watch. This is how Eggers creates fear. Rather than use the typical jump-scare formula which is seen far too often in modern horror, he cleverly uses long takes to let the imagery on screen naturally unravel, allowing us to soak in this terrifying imagery. This creates a much more thought-provoking fear compared to other horror films in 2016, making THE WITCH a highly intelligent product of modern horror.
For Eggers' feature debut, it is a very impressive start to his career, gaining him the prestigious award for best director at Sundance Film Festival in 2015. So, what is next for this already award-winning director? According to an article by Mark Kermode in the Guardian a long-planned NOSFERATU (F.W Murnau,1922) remake is in the pipeline which would be a plausible idea as he created a NOSFERATU adaptation for the stage in 2001. After seeing what Eggers is capable of in THE WITCH, a NOSFERATU remake could continue his horror film success as he would be able to invoke a similar style to Murnau’s original version due to his inspiration from classic horror films. Because of this, Robert Eggers is definitely a director to keep an eye on for the future of horror.