The popular New England folklore of witchcraft that engendered the infamous trials and persecutions in Salem, Massachusetts is the subject of ‘The Witch,’ first-time director Robert Eggers’ atmospheric slow-burning period thriller set in early 17th Century America. Eschewing jump scares and bloody gore in favor of psychological suspense and tightly wound tension, ‘The Witch’ gives us a chilling and compelling depiction of a devout puritan family’s gradual descent into madness.
With hearth and home at its heart, ‘The Witch’ centers on a family of Puritans who moved out of their close-knit community due to religious differences. Mom and Dad had four children (including twins) and a fifth baby was born after their resettlement, but a nearby Witch kidnapped the newborn and sacrificed him in an unholy ritual to the dark powers. More unfortunate occurrences soon followed but, alas, being the devout Christians that they were the family was none the wiser to the evils that befell them and bore their misfortunes with the stoic resignation of Job being tested by a vengeful God. Someone had to shoulder the blame, however, and the obvious and convenient scapegoat is their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), if for no other reason than because there were no other likely suspects. It’s enough to drive one to renounce God and become a witch, you'd say.
Despite the fact that I can barely understand the archaic form of Olde English spoken by the unfortunates throughout the movie, I heartily recommend ‘The Witch’ because it is a fascinating portrait of how a family unravels as the certainty of their deeply held beliefs is slowly pulled apart by the supernatural forces of pure and unadulterated Evil. In some ways, ‘The Witch’ is as mesmerizing as similar past and recent classics as ‘The Wicker Man,’ ‘Spellbinder’ and ‘Kill List.’ It gets under your skin and gives you a sense of dread that just won't go away.