Review: 'The Witch' an unconventional, bewitching horror film
Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin in a scene from the film, 'The Witch.' (Rafy / A24)
Published Friday, February 19, 2016 6:30AM EST
THE WITCH: 3 ½ STARS
"The Witch" is the kind of horror film that is not content to simply say "Boo!" There are few, if any, jump scares in the film. Instead, it’s the kind of puritanical folk tale that slowly burrows itself into your brain, leaving you queasy and uneasy.
Set in New England, 1630 the movie centers on Christian settlers William, Katherine (Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, both of "Game of Thrones") and their five children, a family banished from their church and community to seek out a life on the outskirts of town.
Bordered by an ominous forest, their remote new home offers little in the way of comfort, spiritual uplift or sustenance.
Plagued by grinding poverty and crop failure, the devote family is rocked when their baby son is stolen while under the care of eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). The disappearance is chalked up to something satanic—perhaps a witch from the woods—and a pall of distrust and fear envelops the family, tearing away at the very core of their lives—their faith.
"The Witch" is a slow burn (in hell). Screenwriter and first time director Robert Eggers takes his time building up to a bewitchingly strange climax, toggling between paranoia and illusory (or are they?) elements to allow the dread to mount.
He creates a compact but complete and complex world for his characters to inhabit, chock-a-block with interesting details. Much of the dialogue was borrowed from contemporary trial transcripts and journals and comes heavily laden with religious fervour and the wilderness provides a gloomy backdrop, providing with creepy sounds and the possibility of evil. Everything, every creaking tree branch, every image seems to take on meaning as the hysteria increases.
As William, Ineson is a stern, austere man ruled by his religion, even if it means denying his daughter. The real revelation here is Anya Taylor-Joy as the put-upon daughter whose tests the family’s ideas of faith, loyalty and love.
"The Witch" won’t be for everyone, and certainly not for casual horror fans. There’s no Freddys or Jasons in sight, just pure terror.