Great horror films are few and far between. The ability to balance reality with the supernatural, or whatever terrifying presence a director chooses, is tricky and more often than it is where some fall apart. First-time writer-director Robert Eggers certainly does not fumble with his debut feature film.

The Witch is a cauldron full of the perfect recipe for a great horror film and, on the surface, it is a very simple tale. A family in 1600’s New England undergo terrible fall in circumstance when they are banished from their hometown. With no refuge, the Father (Ralph Inseson) is forced to move his wife and five children into the Wilderness.

The Witch

The move is met with the resolute hope that the family of seven will make their own life in their own way together; that hope is suddenly lost when their youngest child vanishes just days into their new stay. What follows is a masterclass of horror cinema.

This is very much a slow burn horror. It is not a scare-a-minute ride, terrifying cheaply with monsters jumping out behind walls; this is more of the psychological vibe. It is what Eggers does with the unknown and the unseen which unravels into something truly terrifying.

The less I divulge about the story the better; never once are you allowed to have solid footing during this story. This is expected with the film set in the middle of the wilderness, you can never be sure what is around them, or what is waiting for them out there. These questions penetrate the tone for the entire film. What is out there? What is happening to them? Is something out for them? Or is the evil not in the Woods but in the family itself?

The Witch Sundance

Perhaps the most terrifying element of this film is that it all stems from actual court documents, records and first hand accounts. The reality of this discovery makes this supernatural tale of possession a little less far-fetched and a lot more horrifying.

The score in this film may be the best of the festival. The balance of silence, the haunting sounds of the woods and the tense escalation of the musical arrangements leaves little time for the audience to catch your breath. But yet, as good as the film sounds, it is only matched by how beautiful it looks.

The direction in this film is spotless, and Eggers won the Special Grand Jury Prize for Direction in Park City this year. Another great element of the film is its stellar cast, made up of wonderful performances from the young, disturbed children and their parents, all tied together with the film’s incredible lead. Thomasin, played by Anya Taylor-Joy.

I have never seen a film like The Witch before. It is a terrifying version of The Crucible that looks and sounds like There Will Be Blood. Eggers took a huge risk with a period Horror film as his first feature. But the result is a beautiful spell of a film, and the first chapter in what may be a hugely successful film career.

UPDATE: The first trailer.

It’s here. And it’s incredibly spooky.

 

REVIEW OVERVIEW
The Witch
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Nathan is one of HeyUGuys' US correspondents and loves movies. You'll find him at Sundance Film Festival on an annual basis watching and reviewing movies before most others.