Originally posted on THE-F (March 18, 2016)
An exhilaratingly chilling debut, where the piercing points of historical detail in The Witch will coax you to follow the descent of madness and panic of a mid-17th-century family in New England. Adapted from the macabre tales of Puritan folklore, writer-director Robert Eggers lays down the foundation for the famous legend of the 1692 Salem witch trials to be held only decades later, carving an unnerving masterpiece that walks the line between crippling uncertainty and on-screen supernatural horror.
A family of fervent Christians are banished from the walls of a New England settlement as punishment and in turn are forced to resettle on an empty gloomy field that lies on the edge of a menacing forest. Father and woodcutter (Ralph Ineson) and his wife (Kate Dickie) lead their five children to start again, and forge a life from the unforgiving lands, and while the struggle seems almost manageable, their baby boy disappears with a game of peek-a-boo, and their eldest child, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) gets cornered by situations that only grow worse.
The haunting atmosphere is carried out with an exquisite sense of precision, with through the combination of a tense and frightening score alongside the use of extended silence, proving to be a powerful tool Eggers grips by the neck.
While the genre of horror is typically created with the intention of initial shock, The Witch takes a more subtle approach, as it emits an entrancing fear that strays from the clichés of jump scares, exploring the nature of religious prosecution and supernatural elements to a brand new level. Additionally, much of the dialogue and elements of the story have been lifted from 17th-century documents, creating another layer of sinister grimness.
This movie is a reminder that a horror’s core is not just an initial shock, but patience and an unnerving veil that overcomes you, as this grim psychological thriller comments on the complexities of human nature and religious hysteria. A definite must see for the curious and the open-minded.