witch

There is a splendid modesty to The Witch, the feature debut from writer-director Robert Eggers. Positioned with false comfort as “A New-England Fable,” the film progresses with a stern leanness, as if its a spiritual sequel to Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s saga of tragic pioneers. Set in the seventeenth century, The Witch covers the hardships of a family struggling to make do out in the rural outskirts after being cast out of their community. The tension increases when the family’s infant goes missing while being looked after by eldest daughter Thomasin (marvelous newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy), a vanishing that happens in the blink of an eye, leading to suspicions that it was an act of supernatural devilry. What follows is a more intimate version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that trembles with a horror film pulse. Accusations are tossed wildly and pointedly as the family unit dissolves into combative anguish. Eggers develops a mood that is both somber and wrenching, and he frames his images with a enticing elegance. The psychology at play is sharply drawn, which leads to the film’s most unsettling elements arising from the inner turmoil of human nature rather than juiced up narrative tricks. Modesty doesn’t automatically imbue a film with merit — spectacularly-realized excess has its joys, too — but it can be a mark of a filmmaking vision that is uniquely confident and shrewd. The Witch announces Eggers as a creator in the rare, welcome category.

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