• James Rutherford

'The Witch': A Macabre and Diabolical Tale of Witchcraft in 17th Century New England


Movie poster for the film The Witch starring Anya Taylor-Joy

The Witch: A New England Folktale (2015) is a macabre and deeply atmospheric horror film starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, eldest child of English settlers William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie)—banned from their Plymouth Colony over immutable religious differences. The family, including young Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) and infant son Samuel (Axtun Henry Dube), is forced to abscond into the wilderness in order to erect a new homestead at the very edge of civilization.


One afternoon Thomasin is minding young Samuel alone when he mysteriously vanishes, only for it to be revealed that a forest-dwelling witch has stolen and killed him in order to create a flying ointment from his flesh. The child's disappearance induces outrage and terror amongst the family members—Katherine in particular who falls into a state of abject disrepair. When Caleb returns from a subsequent foray into the wilderness delirious and ailing, just as the young twins begin to furtively communicate with a black goat named "Black Phillip", Thomasin finds herself enshrouded in a maelstrom of black magic and frenzied tumult.


Written and directed by American filmmaker Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse), The Witch is a slow-burning and deeply moody affair, marked by swelling dread as it moves toward a climax of ponderous and unsettling revelation. In his feature film debut, Eggers has crafted a profoundly terrifying tale of evil set against a backdrop of steadfast puritanical doctrine. Exceptionally well-crafted, with a major tip of the hat to cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and his uniquely somber visual stylings, it's a meritorious evocation of evil—and a remarkable accomplishment for a filmmaker at the dawn of (what one hopes will be) a long and exceptional career.

 

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