Bottom line: it’s damn scary. It’s “I had a nightmare that evening” scary. That should read like an endorsement. Issues? Yeah, I have a few. Including things getting a touch too literal as the film barreled towards its conclusion. The obvious question to ponder would be, “did it really?”. Now I have a level of pause. There’s a part of me that strongly wants to experience “The Witch” again. Eventually. It’s a bit too frightening to absorb twice in quick succession. Again–an endorsement. Plus, so soon after attending Broadway’s “The Crucible”, I may need a short break having had double toil and trouble.
A New England family lives in isolation tending to a modest farm near the woods, after being banished from a Puritan plantation over a disagreement. William the father (an excellent Ralph Ineson) and his pregnant wife, Katherine (the exceptional Kate Dickie) struggle to make their living while raising teenage Thomasin (wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy), their young boy, Caleb (a very strong Harvey Scrimshaw), and little twins Mercy (Ellie Graiger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). Also, the harsh, primitive 17th century lifestyle they lead, is ripe for superstition and religion-inspired misunderstanding. The baby, Samuel, is born, and often cared for by Thomasin. Until one day Samuel disappears. Is there a kidnapper to fear, living in the surrounding forest? Or some sort of malevolent entity?
First time feature writer/director, Robert Eggers, provoked quite a buzz at Sundance with “The Witch”, more than a year ahead of its general release. He accomplishes a lot with a minimal budget, bolstered by solid performances and sterling cinematography (from Jarin Blaschke). Should Mr. Eggers have held back a bit at key junctures? Maybe. But the feel, the pace, and the tone of “The Witch” is just perfect. This is a folktale that is teeming with metaphor, so the more flamboyant touches could be deemed unnecessary. It’s a haunting film though, that’s both quietly nuanced and audacious. A horror film that’s queasily creepy, and unbearably tense? I’ll forgive a misstep, or two.