Winner of Best Director at last year’s Sundance Film Festival for former production designer and debut wunderkind Robert Eggers, The Witch is a jaw-dropper about a pre-revolutionary colonial family’s implosion after banishment from their settlement for unspecified contrarian religious practices. The family quickly unravels once hunger, lack of resources, and claustrophobic isolation settles in. Oh and also those satanic forces lurking in the surrounding woods. A nightmare-inducing formalist stunner, Egger’s debut is robust with context and deep with emotion before the scares even take their ruthless hold.
These sentiments are not to discount the chills generated by the film, for they are varied and relentless. The initial tone is like an apparition following you up a flight of stairs or entering an illogically frigid room; something unnatural is making its presence known before fully revealing itself. Once that presence does (and far sooner than expected), the scares run the gamut from moodily vicious to spiritually paralyzing, with a decent peppering of jump scares. The Witch terrifies so deeply by shocking you differently at each turn. Never have barn animals been so demonically unsettling.