It is the 17th century a god fearing Puritan family have left a plantation to set up their own farm on the edge of a wood in New England. Not long established in their new homestead and events take a turn for the macabre. In fact something happens early on that is so horrific I couldn’t help but fear for the safety of every member of the family of seven, and fear for what else my eyes might have to witness. Isolated on their farm the family find themselves struck by misfortune and mistrust soon spreads amongst them. As the family start to suspect one another a very real evil lurks in the woods.
What is nice (nice?) about The Witch is that it doesn’t waste time second guessing whether or not there really is a witch. It is clear to everyone early on that the boogeyman is real and isn’t one to hesitate. It is also refreshingly old-fashioned; with the setting being 400 years ago there are no mobile phones to lose signal, no found footage, and no shaky cam. More importantly there are no roads, no vehicles, and no escape.
It is astonishing to think that this is Robert Eggers first film as either writer or director. It is a bold move to use authentic 17th century dialogue and the effect might be jarring at first but ultimately gives the film a good sense of the other and removes it from the safer world we live in. As for the direction; the film is morbidly beautiful to look at with a palette filled with greys and properly dark blacks. There are no brightly lit nights here just endless shadows filled with your worst nightmares. Eggers brings to mind the best work of Ben Wheatley and will hopefully have just as diverse a body of work over the coming years.
Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie lead the family as the two parents and play them brilliantly as a pair who love their children but love God and fear the devil all the more. Lucas Dawson and Ellie Grainger are delightfully cheeky and creepy as the two young twins while the real stars of the show are Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw as the older siblings. Scrimshaw tackles a more mature role than his age would suggest and Taylor-Joy carries us through the film before redefining the role of the final girl.
The Witch is a pure, gimmick-free piece of cinema. It is delightfully terrifying and filled with an air of unrelenting fear and genuine horror. Don’t expect any sudden jumps just a consistent feeling that all’s not well. Because it certainly isn’t.
The Witch is out now in the UK and is a must see.