The Witch gets better with each viewing.
Without revealing too much, the story follows a Puritan family exiled from their plantation in 17th century New England. Alone in the wild, they establish 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 woods nearby.
The film requires active listening. Writer-director Robert Eggers sourced his dialog from documents and diaries written during the film’s period. The resulting English sounds a step removed from our own, packed with thees and thous and unfamiliar inflections. Those expecting to sit back, tune out, and be entertained 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. It’s an immersive experience.
The cast helps. Everyone impresses, but Anya Taylor-Joy astounds. Her performance as a teenage girl coming of age on a puritanical farm feels both original and 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.
And that’s what makes The Witch so special. It works as a horror movie. It works as a drama. It works as a fable. It works as an indictment of patriarchal societies. Like all great films, it rewards subsequent viewings. Whether you're savoring the attention to detail, or exploring the subtext, the film satisfies. As of this writing, I’ve seen it twice. That's not nearly enough.