Movie review of “The Witch”: This unnerving film, set in Puritan New England of 1630, feels like something new in horror. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
“The Witch” feels like something new in horror. Which is to say it feels like something old … authentically old.
Set in Puritan New England of 1630, just 10 years after the Pilgrims stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock, “The Witch” conveys a seamless and all-enveloping feeling that it’s taking place in a distant, more primitive time when satanic horror is abroad in the land. There is virtually no sign of obvious studio artifice in the picture, other than in a limited number of very effectively frightful CG images.
The light from candles and fireplaces, the only lighting other than gray natural light that writer-director Robert Eggers used in shooting, contributes to the sense that you are really there.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘The Witch,’ with Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie. Written and directed by Robert Eggers. 92 minutes. Rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity. Several theaters.
That sense is deepened by the gaunt face of lead actress Kate Dickie, a face that looks to have been etched by frontier hardship.
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It’s there in the rough rumble of the voice of Ralph Ineson, who plays the Dickie character’s husband, speaking in the vernacular of the times. (“Thees” and “thous” abound.)
The timbre of his voice is perfectly suited to a stern patriarch deep in the thrall of unforgiving Old Testament-style religion. The man is a devout believer that children are born into a world of sin and are themselves full of sin and can only be redeemed in the afterlife. The father of five imbues his offspring with his grim religiosity.
A sense of deep-seated superstition is the most critical ingredient in “The Witch.” It hems in the psyches of the family as tightly as nearby surrounding woods hem in their isolated farm.
The woods are a claustrophobic dark tangle that the father has forbidden his children to enter. Evil lurks there. When a mysterious something from the woods reaches out to snatch an infant, and family members venture fearfully into the tangle to try to rescue the baby, the mood darkens and horror asserts itself.
A demonic black goat appears. Religious hysteria takes hold of the family and leads to accusations that the eldest daughter, a teen (Anya Taylor-Joy), is a witch. Paranoia soon has the family tearing itself apart.
Eggers’ depiction of the family’s psychological decay and his relentless piling up of deeply disturbing imagery make “The Witch” an unnerving and fresh-feeling horror masterwork.