The Witch is described, upon it opening moments, as a “New England folktale,” and by the film’s closing moments it will be hard to shake the mesmeric and ultimately horrific story crafted by writer-director Robert Eggers. Set in 1630 New England, the storyline focuses on William (Ralph Ineson), a devout family man who, after refusing to bend to his village’s common law, is banished along with his family to a remote forest. With his children and wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) in tow, William is determined to make a new life in the wilderness and practice his faith without the suffocating presence of social pressure.

When William’s eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, in a breakthrough performance) journeys into the forest with the family’s newborn baby, her brother disappears without a trace. This tragic incident leads to Katherine’s suspicion that Thomasin may actually be a witch, and her fervent desire to return to the village leads to a understandable dip in the family’s morale. With his crops unexpectedly failing and children acting in a strange manner, William attempts to weather the storm through faith and prayer. But evil continues to thrive in the wilderness.

Though The Witch is downright chilling to the bone, Eggers doesn’t resort to quick edits and cheap scares to scare the audience. Whether it’s effectively utilizing Mark Koven’s unsettling and hypnotic score or crafting a claustrophobic possession sequence, the director is in full command of his story. Clocking in a a taut 90 minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat or wasted space in this narrative, and the pinpoint performance of the relatively unknown ensemble cast (Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays Thomasin’s loving brother, is particularly affecting) should keep you glued to the silver screen.

The film’s visual look of gloom and doom wasn’t achieved in post-production color correction, as Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke would mainly shoot on the bleakest of days. This decision inevitably lead to reschedule a healthy share of exterior shots, and one would assume it’s one of the many sacrifices which helped The Witch attain a higher creative level.

The story is mainly seen through Thomasin’s viewpoint, and The Witch wouldn’t be half as good if Taylor-Joy’s performance didn’t ring true. A huge reason for our continued investment on whether or not Thomasin is a witch rests on her subtly self-assured work.

While it offers up scares like there’s no tomorrow, The Witch also provides an immersive story that’s hard to shake. To hear more about our review of The Witch, check out this week’s episode of the iTunes movie podcast CinemAddicts.

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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi