In 17th century New England, a Puritan family exiled from their plantation for being too pious establishes a small farm outside a looming forest. Tragedies beset them. As the stress mounts, they turn against one another, unaware of the horror lurking in the nearby woods.
Writer-director Robert Eggers sourced his dialogue from documents and diaries written during the film’s period. The resulting English sounds a step removed from our own, packed with thees, thous, and unfamiliar inflections. Those expecting to sit back and tune out may find themselves frustrated.
But Eggers rewards our attention. The film’s credibility astounds. The production built a working farm and lit it with near-natural light sources. Eggers scoured Canada for a forest that could pass for New England woodland. The remote location he chose doubles well enough, yet still seems alien and ominous.
The cast impresses. Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as a teenage girl coming of age on a puritanical farm feels authentic, and she delivers it with startling ease. The only thing I didn’t buy were her teeth. Like the rest of the cast, they were too perfect. In a lesser picture, I wouldn’t have noticed.
This isn’t a film of jump-scares or gory set pieces. The story unfolds with a grim, nihilistic inevitability. Take out the supernatural elements and you still have a riveting drama.
But it’s those supernatural scenes that elevate The Witch. A lesser director might have ditched the overt horror—leaving it to the viewer to interpret the film’s events. But Eggers leans into the fantastic. A memorable scene of the titular witch preparing a flying spell plays like a wordless, gruesome, waking nightmare. I loved it.