The Witch: Goddamned Pilgrims
This article originally appeared on TimeOut
It’s not often that a supernatural horror movie leaves the “based on true events” claim for the end credits, but this is exactly the kind of no-frills, no-gimmicks approach that elevates The Witch to a place amongst the genre’s finest. First-time director Robert Eggers’s stripped back approach actually echoes the precision of The Shining, proving that the most effective horrors get under your skin by leaving the more grisly details to your imagination.
Set in bleak and dreary 17th century New England, the film centres on a puritan family trying to build their home on the edge of a forest, a fortress of Christianity in the middle of the secular American wilderness. Unfortunately, that wilderness just happens to be haunted by a malevolent witch. Make no mistake, this isn’t your singing and dancing Disney witch, either. This is a baby-eating, child-possessing force of pure evil. By withering crops and stealing children, she turns the once close-knit family against one another, shining a light on the ugly truths of their religious lives.
The film is based on historical accounts from the early 1600s and Eggers’s script steeps the plot in period-accurate language. Each character exclaims with “thee’s” and “thine’s”, often in reference to god, Jesus, heaven or all of the above. That may sound hammy but at no point is it overreaching or melodramatic and the film’s setting is so bleak that you can’t help but feel for these poor suckers. You don’t need to overstate the horrors of pilgrim life, it was terrifying enough in and of itself.
The clash between fervent Christianity and Satanic witchcraft might drive the story but Eggers holds back from making any one overarching point. This isn’t only about the pitfalls of blind faith, the darkness of the human soul or the sin of suppressing young femininity. This is slow-burning, knuckle-whitening horror of the highest order, expertly staged and executed by a promising newcomer. Expect to see it on a list of cult favourites in the years to come.