Ding dong the witch is alive! Well at least the “Witch” horror film genre is anyway thanks to first time director Robert Eggers’ film The Witch, which opened wide this weekend.
With no jump scares, no shaky video diaries and no crazy special effects Eggers actually tries to scares us on a deeper level. Taking us beyond merely being startled, into a deep dark disconcerting place.
The story, based on actual New England folktales from the 1600s uses the god fearing Puritans’ fear of Satan and black magic from that time to weave a historical and believable tale of a family beset by dark powers
The film begins with a family of Puritans who’ve made the cross-oceanic move to New England in the 1630s. The patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson) has not gotten along with the members of the village and upon the threat of banishment by the church decides to take his family out into the woods to set up a new homestead and farm. He takes his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children—ranging from the eldest girl Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) down to an infant—out into a clearing near a very dark wood where they attempt to live, work, and pray on their own.
But things do not go well. The crops won’t grow and world seems to be conspiring against them, even the animals themselves—chief among them a scrawny rabbit in the woods who harbingers bad things, and an ornery old billy goat named Black Phillip who the six-year-old twins whisper to every day.
The family is torn apart by tragedy and distrust, but that’s what makes the horror of The Witch so effective.
The performances are spot on and are so real and raw that they make even the period dialogue believable.
Those accustomed to seeing jumpy, over-loud, easy horror movies might not find The Witch as terrifying as they might otherwise, but if you give in to the dark magic of the filmmaking, and Eggers’ attention to detail you will find it shocking, eerie, doom-laden, and discomforting.
The Witch is a stressful movie to watch, and that’s meant as the highest praise.