A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya-Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Julian Richings
Rated: R (disturbing violent content and graphic nudity)
By Cole Schneider
Here’s the National Spokesperson for the Satanic Temple: “’The Witch’ is more than a film; it is a transformative satanic experience.” I don’t know about all that, but it certainly isn’t afraid to explore religious themes. It often plays like Kubrick making a Berman-esque prequel to “The Crucible”. In the film, subtitled “A New England Folktale”, we follow a strict religious family as they are banished from their village and strike out on their own into the cold, eerie woods of the new world.
The religion of these Puritan zealots is certainly the narrative focal point, but freshman writer/director Eggers doesn’t simply repeat or reconstruct the classic horror couplets of ‘fear and love’, ‘faith and isolation’, or ‘doubt and the supernatural’. It’s not that Eggers doesn’t have anything to say about religion, but rather that he’s more interested in using these ideas as a means of exploring the very similar underpinnings of America’s formation. It’s a more political film than it is a religious film.
Of the copious religious imagery in “The Witch”, none is more consistent and blunt than Original Sin. Eggers uses this doctrinal pillar as analogous to American history. Early in the film when the family is on their way out of the village, we see some Natives casually stroll into the frame. This suggests America’s original sin. The remaining story examines life for this Fundamentalist family—and by extension, America—lives post-sin. Religion responds with legalism; America with meritocracy. Legalism pushes the family deeper into paranoid hysteria; where has meritocracy pushed America? I will not spoil the final act, but this “New England Folktale” builds to a stunning religious/political truth.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
By Matt Greene
The new indie-horror The Witch will cause one of the following two reactions in anyone brave enough to face it: 1) to run away as far and as fast as possible from the residuals of nightmare fuel; or 2) to dive in deeper, seeking out the bleak origins and intense terrors underlying its cold surface. Either reaction would be legitimate, as its unsettling visuals and themes are as enveloping as they are hard-to-stomach. Less a forceful, shocking horror than an atmospheric vision of fear, these two disparate effects point to the same truth: The Witch is an overwhelming experience of sheer terror.
Set in 17th century New England, teenager Thomasin and her family are banished from their paranoid town and forced to make a life of their own. As witchcraft and black magic begin to make their way out of the neighboring woods and into the family’s life, things go from bad to worse. Newcomer Eggers directs with such fervency for authenticity, it feels like he time-traveled to capture this unique era for horror. His characters carry all the affectations you expect of the period (old-fashioned English, enclosed communities), but more importantly, each member of the small cast is layered with empathy and dark humanity.
Those characters, coupled with the dreary beauty of the visuals and the mesmerizing score, give us a clear first-look at a fearless talent. Eggers not only has a handle on the surface level aesthetics, but dives into some deep wells of thought, like religion vs. spirituality and the very notion of innocence. Thematically propulsive, visually rich, and disarmingly demented, The Witch casts a spell you can’t learn even at Hogwarts.
4.5 out of 5 Stars