“The Witch” is a very elemental story, describing itself a folktale. Though it is set in 1630s New England and deals with witchcraft, at its heart, it is really about the breakup of the family, how quickly you can turn on a loved one and the power of temptation. In that sense, the story is timeless.
After a family voluntarily leaves their village because of ‘sin’ to live at the outskirts of the woods, strange things begin to happen. The young baby of the family disappears. The youngest son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), is lost in the woods. Mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) slowly loses her mind. The young twins grow stranger and stranger. Father William (Ralph Ineson) tries to stay strong, but believes the devil is at work. Everyone starts to blame Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the oldest daughter, of being a witch.
The film is not the traditional jump-scare of modern horror movies, but more of a slow burn towards the climax. Is Thomasin really a witch? What about the twins? What happened to the baby? The score and cinematography add to the surreal, creepy cinéma-vérité as the film crescendos, but the ending leaves more questions than answers, letting you ruminate on the experience. It focuses on the breakup of a family, betrayal, surrealism, burgeoning sexuality, the danger of our environment, the consequences of desperation, the lust of sin and more.
It is a welcome change for a horror film to focus on intelligence rather than cheap gimmicks and for some viewers, it will make for a rather mundane experience, the pace slower than contemporary films. For those with the patience, “The Witch” is a rewarding venture that will leave them thinking long and hard about its meaning.