Starring Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor Joy Director Robert Eggers’ first feature film is a ripper. Opting for dread and mood over jump scares or deep mythology, Eggers delivers a seriously terrifying and deeply unsettling folktale set in colonial America that is intensely disturbing and wholly unforgettable.
Set in 1630 New England, a generation before the Salem witch trials, the film revolves around a small family that has been excommunicated from its plantation due to father William’s (Ralph Ineson) outspoken objections to what he sees as the community’s lax religious principles. William welcomes the chance to leave the plantation and practice his strict adherence to the Lord on his own, moving his family to a remote cabin near the foreboding woods.
Early in the story, daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) verging on becoming a woman herself is playing peek-a-boo with the family’s baby near the treeline when, all of a sudden, she opens her eyes to see the boy is gone, with no trace of where he went. The audience is then introduced to a cloaked figure running with the baby through the woods the titular witch and what happens next is unspeakable. What follows is the families conflict as they struggle with the disappearance of the child while attempting to maintain their faith in God in light of such a tragedy. Moreover, things keep getting worse, as their harvest of corn goes bust and, without the safety of the plantation, the family is in danger of starving to death during the winter.
The faith of the individual family members is threatened even more with the afterlife fate of the young baby, and whether they themselves have been redeemed in the eyes of God. Is it possible to go to heaven if you’ve sinned? Can we know for sure that God forgives? What does it mean to invite sin into your life, and what do those consequences look like? These questions are pondered by the individuals of the family, turning their tension and doubt on each other. Someone must be to blame for their poor fortune, and if not God, it’s surely one of them. While the horror genre has never really lost its prevalence over the years, it feels like a lot of “scary” movies these days are simply going through the motions. The film will most likely find you wanting to watch with one hand covering your face is just a bonus.
Rated M 8 out of 10