Synopsis: A puritan family face unimaginable terrors when they move to the edge of an ominous, lonely wood.
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Katie Dickie
Release date: March 11
Running time: 92 mins
Horror is a much-maligned genre in the world of cinema. But Robert Eggers’ chilling debut film The Witch is the kind of lovingly-conceived and remarkably-executed masterpiece that even the snootiest of critics can’t ignore.
Having won Eggers the Director’s Award at Sundance and been unleashed upon the American public to a great deal of praise (and some backlash), this year’s most talked-about slice of the macabre arrives on British shores this week.
If you’re in any way a fan of psychological drama or things that go bump in the night, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
“Shocking turn of events”
In 1630s New England, a puritanical family opts for self-exile from their village at the behest of their stubborn father (Ralph Ineson); settling in their own isolated farmstead on the fringes of a dark, foreboding wood.
As decisions go, you’d expect it to be a rather poor one, and so it proves. It isn’t long before the crops are failing, tensions are raised – and a truly shocking turn of events leads to even greater turmoil among the devout unfortunates.
Is the real danger the family’s mounting paranoia, a supernatural threat lurking in the forest, or both?
One of the real strengths of Eggers’ movie – other than the exquisite period detail – is the time it takes getting you to know its central players, and care about them.
Ineson banishes all memory of his turn as Finchy in The Office with a performance of real gravitas as grim but loving patriarch William, who is far from the dogmatic brute you might imagine. At least to begin with.
Even better is astonishing newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin, whose conflicted teen provides the heart of the film; torn between loyalty and contempt.
“Atmosphere of dread”
Just as comedy is subjective, so too is horror, and debate has raged over whether The Witch is truly scary or not.
It’s not full of tiresome jump-scare theatrics, that’s for certain. Instead, the film builds a steady atmosphere of dread from the very start.
There’s an outlandish sense of the uncanny and the intangible, with several stand-out moments of terrifying, feverish imagery, or slow-burning onslaughts of surreal, nightmarish suspense.
Deserving of special praise is composer Mark Korven’s maddening, oppressive score, reminiscent of The Shining and There Will Be Blood and skin-crawling in its own right.
There’s a religious terror and sense of malevolent evil running through Eggers’ film to rival even The Exorcist. And that sense of unease may stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
The Witch is one of the finest horror movies in years. Perhaps even decades. Excellently acted, written and directed, it’s a masterclass in psychological filmmaking.