In the 1630s a devout Christian family from New England are cast out from their settlement and look to build a home of their own in the challenging wilderness. After coming across a welcoming plot William and Catherine begin to build the new homestead with their four children. Not long after they begin to settle, their new born son disappears from beneath the nose of their eldest daughter Thomasin. This tragic incident is followed by failing crops, leaving the family with little food, and diminishing hope. With suspicion growing and their faith challenged, they begin to turn on one another as anxiety and fear looms over the homestead, all the while a dark force lurks in the surrounding wood.
The horror genre is a complex one, but when it comes to supernatural horrors there tend to be two varieties. There are the thinly veiled rollercoasters that try to make you jump exploiting ghoulish images and loud noises at every turn, and then there are those brooding, malevolent films that crawl under your skin and refuse to leave. The Witch is very much the latter, a dark folk tale wrought with fear and horror that lets your mind wander into darkness without showing you much of anything. This is horror in one of its purest forms, and for the entirety of its running time The Witch plucked at my nerves as if they were guitar strings.
Like any intelligent horror, The Witch sometimes uses the surface of horror to dig a little deeper and explore topics that can be just as horrifying as physical evil. The futility of faith is a current that flows under the surface of the films story, which to a Christian family in the Seventeenth Century would have been just as traumatic as the affliction of witchcraft. Admittedly, the path the plot takes is a well travelled one, but the setting in which it takes place makes it feel very new. The dense tall woods provide perfect scenery, making the isolated homestead feel claustrophobic and helpless. Director Robert Eggers has a bright future ahead, like Scott Derrickson and James Wan before him he’s created a masterful horror film that’ll sit on your shoulder and keep it’s presence with you long after the closing credits.
Witchcraft and witchery in this form is seldom seen in the realm of horror, and if your looking for peekaboo scares and broom riding hags then there is nothing here for you. But if you like your horror films mature, and effectively unsettling, then I can’t recommend this enough. It’s simple, yet macabre horror reminiscent of the works of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’ll be the best horror film this year.