The Witch was the top horror/suspense film of 2016, indeed it was one of the best films of the year by and large. It was a dark, dreary, often psychologically traumatizing event depicting the 1600s (the film never really makes it clear that’s just my best guess) in America; a place where people’s faith stood in stark contrast with the landscape around them. The script is meticulous and detailed, sounding as it if were ripped right from the timeline. It’s a very ambiguous film, regarding whether or not the eponymous “Witch” exists at all but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film. The music, as much as the script, the acting, and cinematography, is the reason why the film is such a success. It was scored by Mark Korven, a prolific artist known for his ambient style and folk like sounds.
The music of the Witch sounds dated and old, it feels as though the music was performed on instruments that were made during the time period. It’s not an overly long soundtrack at just below forty minutes but in those minutes the entire world is transformed and comes alive. The soundtrack is dark and foreboding but rich as well. Additionally, the soundtrack introduced me to what might be my favorite instrument ever: the waterphone, an inharmonic percussion instrument consisting of a resonator bowl with different sized bronze rods arrayed along the rim of the bowl.
There are three major themes throughout the soundtrack: the family, the witches, and the landscape. The family theme was very hard and rigid, exemplifying the harsh religious nature of the family. It’s very stark with little in the way of emotional depth, again exemplifying the harsh nature of the family unit in the 1600s. It does, on occasion, have a mournful, lonely tone, denoting the isolation the family (or more accurately the father) has placed upon itself. The family is the barrier of light and faith against the heathen monstrosities that tip toe at the edge of the forest beyond the farm.
The landscape is foreboding and atonal, feeling much more natural than the family’s theme but given that we only see the landscape through their untrusting, paranoid view point the music is sinister, holding a lot of darkness inside it. Often the two themes are played against each other or side by side, symbolizing their proximity. The music is gloomy and slow with stings playing a separate note underneath.
The witch theme is by far the most terrifying and the most gratifying. It’s creepy and unusual, it’s ethereal yet it’s hard, composed to make the movie goer’s skin crawl. It plays perfectly when onscreen, playing off the imagery of the witches, at least what they would have believed about witches in the 1600s. With all the accusations within the family over who is or isn’t a witch, this theme eventually invades and warps the family theme, make the formally rigid and formulaic structure chaotic and paranoid.
The instruments are beautiful and archaic, enriching the entire experience of watching the film. The score of the Witch is what makes it a horror picture. There aren’t any of the jump scares we come to expect. It’s more a gradual descent into a horrifying reality as the characters begin to lose hold on what’s real and grasp more at what they believe to be true. Without a deep and rich soundtrack, the film would play more as a historical drama detailing the utter hardships that people faced in the American landscape in the 1600s. The film is strong on its own, creating a sense of isolation and religious paranoia that the soundtrack mines to bring forth a terrifying picture. On its own the Witch is one of my favorite films of the year, with the soundtrack added the film is one of my favorite ever. Listen to the music, watch the film, your perspective is bound to change because of it.