Written and directed by Robert Eggers | 92 min | ▲▲▲▲△
A Puritan family—a couple and five children— is cast out from their New England community. They head into to the woods to start their own farm. Their youngest, a baby, vanishes while being cared for by the teenaged girl, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), much to the everlasting dismay of their mother (Kate Dickie). The father (Ralph Ineson) and eldest boy (Harvey Scrimshaw) go looking for the baby, and to hunt for food, but there’s something in those woods, something that means them harm. Meanwhile, back at the farm, the twins are in league with the goat, and everyone is quick to jump to conclusions.
Eggers is a production designer turned filmmaker, and he’s been paying attention to Kubrick and Polanski with this, his first feature. Long, static shots overlaid by an atonal Mark Korven score deliver the creeps right from the start. The plotting is a little predictable—who the presence in the woods actually is remains a mystery—but when the characters and milieu are as vivid as they are here, much is forgiven. This is as much a drama of mental illness, religious zealotry, and fear of nature as it is a straight-out supernatural horror, and The Witch also has a thing or two to say about gender politics in America if you’d care to read it that way.
It’s also very well acted for the genre. Every performer, especially the children, do great work bringing across the confusion and paranoia that inevitably descends. The dialogue—a plausible approximation of English as spoken in the 17th Century—is delivered with ease.
Fans of gore will need to hold tight for awhile to see some blood, but when it rains, its pours.
The Witch opens in Halifax on February 19, 2016