The Witch

In DVD/Blu-ray by Alex Moss Editor

If you look back through the history of cinema the most effective horror films are rarely the ones that rely on the modern day trend of loud jump-scares. You know the type, the ones in which everything goes quiet, the protagonist shines a torch this way and that, the camera tracks around them, and then, as they swing back to that empty chair BOOOO! You jump six feet in the air before shrugging and wondering what all the fuss is about. It’s not real horror, it’s designed to make you flinch, almost like a playground trick.

Great horror movies, the ones that get under your skin and have you scared to look at your own reflection as you do your teeth before going to bed at night, they’re a rarity. Because to get inside your head as well as making you shiver with terror is something only highly accomplished filmmakers can do. The Witch never resorts to gimmicks, instead it is a slow-burn horror with the ability to genuinely chill you to the core.

In 17th Century New England devout Puritan William (Ralph Ineson) finds him and his family excommunicated from their town. Travelling out to the wilderness he starts a new life with his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). When Katherine gives birth to their fifth child it goes mysteriously missing, swiped away by a cloaked figure in the dead of night the family soon begin to turn on each other with Thomasin becoming the scapegoat of the family.

Writer director Robert Eggers has created one of the most beautiful and creepy horror movies in sometime. It feels as if it is from a bygone era of filmmaking. Much more akin to something from the ‘70s where special effects were used sparingly in place of a genuinely disturbing plot. There’s the paranoia of a Rosemary’s Baby, the hysteria of Ken Russell’s The Devils and the evocative terror of The Exorcist.

The Witch often moves at a gradual, plodding pace. Eggers wants you to become familiar with each and every character, including the terrifying goat Black Philip, in order for you to fully appreciate the madness that is setting upon them. This isn’t man versus nature but the isolation of man in nature causing him to turn on himself.

Throughout The Witch there is a sense of familiarity, that you somehow know this story and yet don’t quite know where it’s going nor how it is going to get there. Because what Eggers has done is deeply immerse us in the history of The Salem Witch Trials on a smaller scale while seamlessly conjuring endless nightmares from those Grimm fairy tales we all grow up hearing. The results are compelling and will have you cowering with gradually built-up fear.

A remarkable feature debut from Eggers, The Witch is the year’s finest example of a true horror film.