New England folktale ‘The Witch’ leaves a mark
With his chilling debut feature “The Witch,” writer-director Robert Eggers has made himself a presence to watch in the horror community. He brings real tension and unnerving suspense to this colonial horror tale, which is based in part on historical records from 17th century New England.
As the film opens, William (Ralph Ineson), his wife, Katharine (Kate Dickie), and his five children are banished from their plantation and forced to live alone on the edge of the wilderness. There is evil in the woods, and that evil causes William’s family — including daughter Thomasin (newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy, stunning) and son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) — to slowly descend into madness.
Questions of faith are at the center of the family’s unraveling, as they deal with malevolent forces real and imagined. Eggers slowly ratchets up the dread, but shows a restraint that pays off as he builds toward a deeply unsettling climax.
“The Witch” isn’t typical gorehound material; it has an art film prestige and a commitment to period authenticity. Its dialogue — rich with “thees” and “hithers” — could come from a Jane Austen novel, and may create a barrier for those expecting something less than a horror history lesson.
But Eggers — and Taylor-Joy, who is a revelation — is worth following deep into the woods. He shows a mastery of atmosphere and mood that hints at big things to come, and he maximizes his tiny budget and a scrappy location. He makes it work, and “The Witch” leaves scars.
Rated R: for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
Running time: 90 minutes