The Witch (2016)

A Puritan nightmare made flesh and blood, “The Witch” transports its audience to Colonial New England where a creeping fear threatens to corrupt and destroy an isolated family.

First time feature writer/director, Robert Eggers’The Witch,” is the first serious horror film of 2016. It has more in common with Nathaniel Hawthorne than it does with James Wan (“Insidious,” “The Conjuring”), so don’t expect jump scares, loud stingers on the soundtrack or anything conventionally scary. In that regard, “The Witch” adheres closer to Guillermo del Toro’sCrimson Peak,” with style and psychological substance trumping shock tactics throughout.

There’s real witchcraft and devilry just beyond the tree line of the dark forest, but some of the most horrific acts committed in “The Witch” don’t come as the result of demonic incantations but instead come at the hands of human weakness and misguided zealotry.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays a young Puritan girl named Thomasin who is coming of age in the early 1630’s in New England. Her father, William (Ralph Ineson), is forced to relocate his family from the thriving colonial village where they’ve been living because his rigid Puritanical beliefs are too fanatical even for the community of other pilgrims who left England fleeing religious persecution.

William packs a small wagon with his wife, Thomasin, her brother Caleb, two younger twins and a newborn baby, and forges a trail into the wilderness in search of a new home. Finally settling on an isolated clearing just in front of a densely wooded area, the family builds a cabin and begins planting corn and raising livestock in the hopes of surviving the coming winter alone.

One fated twilight, Thomasin is put in charge of caring for baby Samuel and during an innocent game of peek-a-boo, the infant is mysteriously whisked away by a cloaked figure into the dark woods. It’s a tragedy distressing enough to disrupt the mental health of the family, causing Thomasin’s mother to enter a near catatonic state of fevered prayer and her father to begin to wonder if the Devil has taken root in his new home.

There’s never really a question about whether or not the Devil is real or witchcraft exists. Early on we’re shown a hag use the blood of a newborn to transform into a raven and later Caleb finds the rejuvenated witch’s hut deep in the forest. The forces of Satan are very real in this tale which borrows liberally from colonial era folklore and myth. The slow building horror of “The Witch” is conjured by the degree of absolute realism with which the forces of darkness are revealed. It’s no wonder that the film has been given an endorsement by the Satanic Temple, who are hosting screenings across the country.

As the family breaks down, little white lies told to each other take a heavy toll on their psychological wellbeing, and even the family’s goat, Black Philip, begins to take on Satanic characteristics.

“The Witch” works on several levels as a period drama, a supernatural horror film, a coming-of-age feminist study and the origin story of a witch who instead of damnation may have found a new awakening of freedom in an ancient circle. Some may even find this film dangerous on spiritual grounds. It’s certainly not the standard weekend fare usually presented in stadium seating multiplex cinemas, and will certainly perplex and likely frustrate viewers just looking for a “scary movie” to grab the arm of their significant other for a fun night at the movies.

This film digs deeper and seeks to haunt you longer than the usual weekend spookshow, and it succeeds in all the ways that the very best films about witchcraft claw into the most Puritanical parts of the human brain, unlocking forgotten fears from ages long past. Highly recommended!

The Phantom of The Ville

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