Film Review by Kam Williams
Puritan Family Torn Asunder by Demonic Forces in Chilling Historical Thriller
It is Colonial New England in 1630, and William (Ralph Ineson) has just been banished from a Puritan plantation, ostensibly over religious differences with the settlement’s elders. The proud patriarch exhibits a stoic resolve as he prepares to move his family from the safe confines of the fort to an unprotected, undeveloped plot of land located on the edge of the forest.
William naturally expects to face some serious challenges trying to harness the harsh elements, given how he and his homely wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), had five children to feed. But as devout Christians, they were willing to trust in the Lord to provide. Still, there would be no anticipating the host of supernatural horrors about to unfold which would test their faith while members of the tight-knit clan gradually turn against one another.
Their troubles begin when newborn Samuel vanishes into thin air while being watched by the eldest of his siblings, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). William is inclined to explain away the disappearance as an abduction by wild animal, even though his teenage daughter has already confessed to a sinful self-indulgence of pangs of sexual arousal. Prescient twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) hint at Satanism, while pubescent Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is too aroused by Thomasin’s cleavage to ascribe any evil to his big sister.
The Pilgrims’ plight proceeds to deteriorate further as crops fail, livestock produce blood instead of milk, and Caleb inexplicably falls ill and slips into a catatonic state. At this juncture, inconsolable Katherine starts yearning to return home to England and even questions whether God exists.
This being Massachusetts in the 17th Century, suspicions of sorcery soon swirl around Thomasin, her vehement protestations of innocence notwithstanding. For, this was a time when a rumors of witchcraft could land a young woman in a heap of trouble.
Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, The Witch marks the phenomenal directorial and scriptwriting debut of Robert Eggers. Between period costumes and palpable atmospherics, the movie manages to generate an eerie air of authenticity that keeps you squirming in your seat. Another plus is the talented cast that proves to be totally convincing as Puritans.
A survival saga reminiscent of the The Revenant, except with demonic forces added to the frontier endurance test.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for disturbing violence and graphic nudity
Running time: 92 minutes
Distributor: A24 Films