A burning talent at the core of Hollywood’s new season of horror. Taken from the 10th Birthday Issue of Wonderland.
When I catch up with 19-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy, the trailer for her first feature film, The Witch, is blowing up online. The new England folktale, written and directed by Robert Eggers, was dubbed one of the standout films at this year’s Sundance Festival, where it not only won him the Directing Award in the US Dramatic category, but also saw Taylor-Joy being hailed as a breakout star and one to watch.
Shot over just five weeks, the film follows a devout Christian 17th century family, whose newborn son disappears without a trace, inciting rumours that Taylor-Joy’s character, Thomasin, is practicing witchcraft. While the theme may be one we see lazily churned out Halloween after Halloween, critics across the board are agreeing that this movie is a mustwatch – with Time Out New York calling it “One of the most genuinely unnerving horror films in recent memory.” God knows we’re overdue one.
Taylor-Joy claims never to have even seen a scary movie before The Witch, but as I chat to her about my decreasing faith in Hollywood horror, she’s surprisingly well aware of the formulaic approach to the genre that seems to have been adopted by so many. “Look, I’m very green to the industry, but that’s something that’s always bothered me about movies in general; once there is, as you said, a formula, or something that’s obviously successful, people emulate it again and again. In doing so we’ve forgotten the true faces of fear… and that’s what this film really plays upon; the fact that real fear is something deeply rooted in all of us – that’s why so many people are genuinely unnerved by it.”
The storyline had a true resonance with Taylor-Joy, who was raised Catholic between London and Argentina. She recalls not sleeping a wink the evening before the audition, because she was so gripped with fear after having first read the script.
“It just got to me, man. Whatever my religious beliefs are now, a lot of it really freaked me out because I could one hundred percent understand why incredibly pious people would feel such guilt, shame and isolation in that situation because of how I was brought up. Rob’s just an incredible creator, and the words he’s written are horrible… completely horrible.”
The youngest of six, Taylor-Joy’s taste in films is a quirky mix of 90s kids classics and both Spanish and Argentine cinema. “I grew up watching a lot of Spanish movies… and one of my all-time favourites is an Argentinian romcom called Un Novio Para Mi Mujer… I feel like Argentina feels somehow really far away from the rest of the world, and it results in a really unique sense of humour… you have to watch it. But so far as the films that made me want to act, it was the stuff I watched with my brothers and sisters when they were growing up, like Richie Rich and Free Willy. I was like, I don’t know what that kid is doing but he got to ride a whale, and that’s awesome! How do I do that?”
While her role in The Witch may be a far cry from Jesse’s in Free Willy, Taylor-Joy’s fast proving that she’s capable of mastering pretty much any character thrown at her. She’s just wrapped another lead role in a movie, this time playing an artificial human/robot in a fuck-off budget sci-fi thriller directed by Luke (son of Ridley) Scott. It certainly hasn’t been a bad year.