Review: The Witch
By John Corrado
★★★ (out of 4)
If a belief in God also means believing in the devil, it’s no surprise that the deeply religious family at the centre of The Witch becomes so terrified and paranoid when apparently satanic things start happening around their New England farm.
The year is 1630, and William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) have just relocated to a rural farm property with their five children, who are all being raised in a devout Christian belief. But when crops start to fail, and their newborn child mysteriously disappears, William comes to believe they have been cursed by malevolent forces, placing blame upon his teenaged daughter, Thomasin (Anya-Taylor Joy).
Robert Eggers directs this slow burn horror film with a sure sense of atmosphere, and does a commendable job of building tension throughout. Thankfully not relying on needless jump scares, The Witch finds its most terrifying moments through plenty of truly disturbing images, including bloody and cringe inducing infanticide, possessed children and animals designed to haunt your dreams, and a dark force that lurks in the woods taking the form of a wrinkled and naked elderly woman.
Through an authentic eye for period detail and costuming, The Witch also makes great use of the visually arresting locations provided by the Ontario Heritage Fund, with the moody cinematography capturing the rich blackness and all encompassing depth that surrounds them in the desolate woods. The themes of faith and fear are affectively rendered through dialogue purportedly lifted right off the pages of court documents and journal entries from the time period, giving a sense of authenticity to the proceedings that can’t be denied, regardless of what beliefs you bring to the film.
The film is believably carried by solid performances, centred around a commanding breakout turn from Anya Taylor-Joy, who keeps us in suspense as to her character’s true intentions. Still, there is bound to be much debate about the almost overtly literal final scene, leaving little room for interpretation about what’s really happening in the story, which up until then could be seen as purely metaphorical. But The Witch excels at building a haunting sense of atmosphere and tension, making this an appropriately chilling modern horror film, rooted firmly in the mythology and folklore of the past.