The Witch movie review: 'It honestly freaked the bejaysus out of me'

The Witch

Chris Wasser

Subtitled ‘A New England Folktale,’ I make no bones about what first-time director Robert Eggers’ The Witch did to my heart rate.

The latest big-screen horror to arrive in cinemas in a season generally viewed as a dumping ground for these kinds of films, there are two reasons to separate The Witch from its tired and bloated counterparts. One: it only cost $1 million to make. Two: it honestly freaked the bejaysus out of me.

Basically, it’s 1630, and a Christian farmer and his family have been excommunicated from their colonial plantation in New England. Forced to relocate to a stretch of land at the edge of a nearby forest, William (a beguiling Ralph Ineson), the fearsome patriarch, builds a new home and, for a while at least, the family appears to settle into their new surroundings. And then bad things start happening.

William and his wife Katherine’s newborn baby is kidnapped. The animals start looking at them funny. The crops fail. William’s twins accuse their teenage sister, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), of witchcraft. Well, here’s the kicker: there really is a witch out there in those scary woods, and she’s going to deploy all sorts of black magic and possession to tear this family apart. The results are every bit as terrifying as you’d imagine.

It’s an intricate period piece; a disturbing and frightfully realistic portrayal of a deeply religious family whose faith is tested and punished as they try to make sense of the demonic horrors unfolding before their eyes.

Wonderfully acted and featuring a deeply unsettling score, Eggers builds his story meticulously, presenting an eerie, slow-burning sense of dread that, eventually, gives way to a distressing finale. A smart, sophisticated and genuinely spooky horror. We thought they had run out of those.