By STEVEN ARVANITIS
With such fevered intensity and a relentless sense of dread, The Witch is one the most invigorating and unsettling horror movies in years. Through the adaptation of various 17th century journal entries and court cases. This grim folktale deeply explores the darkest facets of one vehemently devoted Puritan family, burning with the fiery machinations of America’s original values.
A puritan family in the 17th century is banished from their home settlement in New England due to an overall vague, but deeply religious conflict. William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie, both Game of Thrones veterans), with their five children, resettle near an ominous farm that sits on the edge of some very foreboding woods. Now isolated, the family attempts to rebuild a semblance of faith, now mired beneath layers of a fear of sin and punishment; however, the sinister events begin immediately, with the youngest child, Samuel being snatched into the woods after a lethal game of peek-a-boo with the oldest daughter Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy). Robert Eggers, the incredibly promising director of this stunningly bold debut (previously a costume designer), throws the audeince headlong into the unsettling atmosphere with a surefire speed, quickly setting a constant sense of dread, supported by myriad threatening shots of the New England landscape. These images capture the colonial setting at its harshest and the eerie compositions that permeate throughout the entire film give the sense of pure evil lurking around the corner.
The film doesn’t shy away from exposing its viewers to the graphic nature of the witch’s capture entails (the family attempts to ease the pain of loss by presuming that the world’s fastest wolf caught Samuel rather than a supernatural force) as the creature grinds Samuel’s remains into mortar. The detailed, morbid scene ensues, as the obsessive fear of sin gradually leads to the family’s downfall. Evil manifests in many forms, such as a convincingly possessed goat that twins Ellie and Jonas (played by Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson, respectively) nickname “Black Phillip.” As the family desperately attempts to bridge an ever-growing distance between them and God, the deep intimacy that Eggers retains leads to a urgent sense of paranoia (“Did ‘ye make some unholy bond with the goat?”); accusations are made, and familial bonds are broken.
Thomasin, who is played by Anna Taylor-Joy with an electrifying intensity, soon becomes painted as the cause of their afflictions. Embodying the values that puritan society attempts to obfuscate, with her eventual “turn” almost acting as a form of liberation. New themes are conjured with each scene, especially the religious imagery; there is no shortage of apples, depicting an increasing sense of temptations and sin the more they become imbued with a fear of God. The film finds its scares in the murkiest corners of human depravity, wandering through the oppressiveness of zealotry. Tense and suffocating, “The Witch” is a triumph, thematically and textually rich with horror.