The Witch, given the subtitle “A New-England Folktale,” is just that. Set during the early Puritan era, a postscript at the end of the film notes that its dialogue was inspired by court transcripts of the 1630s. “My corrupt nature is empty of grace, bent unto sin, only unto sin, and that continually,” a boy casually tells his father as they walk through a demented wood. But this film is so much more than its dialogue and faithful recreation of post-colonial New England.
First-time director Robert Eggers has created an eerie, disquieting tale that demands the viewer to eye every detail. He creates this air of unknown and suspense by stealing us in at the very beginning. A family—a farmer, his wife, their three young children and newborn—is dispelled from their village due to religious beliefs and settle by themselves on the edge of a towering forest.
Within just 15 minutes of the viewer finding their seat, the baby is kidnapped. Taken out of thin air while the farmers eldest daughter Thomasin, played by the stunning Anya Taylor-Joy, is playing peek-a-boo with the infant. In the next scene we witness a haggard old woman with a hatchet face making a mush out of the infant’s body. From point in the film until the very last scene, there is very little action in this film.
It is the incredible sense of dread and the overanalyzing of every detail we as the audience do for the next hour or so, which may be one of the reasons why Eggers took home the best director prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year. The Witch is labeled a “new kind of horror movie” and that’s not far off. It is difficult to think of a comparable film; one that blends period with terror so well.
A24 distributed The Witch. The boutique distributor has been in existence for just a few years but is already building a reputation as a company that only sends quality cinema out to the public. A24 distributed Room and Ex Machina last year, which both took home Oscars at the 88th Academy Awards.
The Witch certainly isn’t for everyone. You need an appetite for the uncomfortable but if you can stomach a possessed goat named Black Philip you’ll be rewarded. This film is unlike much of what Hollywood has been putting out the past decade and is a solid argument against the quality of film emigrating to television. Although you may find yourself bored throughout much of the middle of the film, you probably won’t be. And even if you are, the scenes that bookend it are enough of a reward.
Rating: 4/5 stars