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The Witch

A Puritan family in the 1630s discovers harsher realities than nature

Cast out from their village for professing a stricter faith than their Puritan brethren, a lone family packs its worldly goods into a cart and rolls toward the deep, dark wood.
    Father William (Ralph Ineson: Kingsman: The Secret Service) sees the banishment as proof of his superior faith. He welcomes hardship and torment, as they allow him to beg for God’s mercy. Mother Katherine (Kate Dickie: Take It Back and Start All Over) invests blind faith in God and husband.
    Only teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy: Atlantis) seems disturbed by the family’s abrupt departure from the last vestiges of civilization. Tending the younger children, laboring on their small farm and begging forgiveness for not enjoying this hard life, Thomasin prays for a change.
    Change comes when the family’s infant child is stolen from underneath their nose. Katherine blames her daughter and God for the loss and takes to her bed to chant prayers. More stoic William is distracted by the family’s diminishing chances for surviving the winter when the crops rot.
    Rage and uncertainty fester. All seek someone to blame for their misfortune. Is this just poor luck? Or is something insidious to blame?
    Stark, creepy and harrowing, The Witch is a beautifully made horror film with limited appeal. The film is set in the 1630s, and director Robert Eggers’ commitment to historical accuracy may drive away some viewers. Dialogue, which Eggers took from period texts and diaries, is hard to understand. The film thrives on muddy tones and dark shadows.
    The acting is powerful, but dark and distressing imagery seals Eggers’ success. Mutilated animals, the infinite darkness of the deep wood, a staring black goat, rustling sounds: All combine to create an unnerving experience. Even a bunny rabbit hopping through the farm appears threatening.
    Though there is, indeed, a witch — Eggers makes her presence clear from the outset — the real horror comes from watching this family fall so easily into violence and ruin.

Excellent Horror • R • 92 mins.