Robert Eggers’s horror film about a Puritan family under attack from dark forces in a 17th century New England settlement has shades of the Salem witch trials.
The Witch has the onscreen subtitle A New England Folktale, and its end credits posit that it’s inspired by folklore, fairytales and journals from the time of its 1630s setting. First-time feature director Robert Eggers and his crew take a practically fetishistic route to evoking that time, incorporating period-accurate language, detail-perfect sets, hand-stitched costumes, and striking compositions heavily dependent on natural light.
It's ostensibly the scary tale of a banished, isolated family torn apart by the forces of darkness, but running concurrently at all times with the black magic and shady goats is an affecting moral drama regarding the devastating consequences that result from seeds of distrust. Visible witchcraft could plausibly have been left out of the film and you’d still have a portrait of mass psychological breakdown that disturbs in its own right. That The Witch's events are set just a couple of decades before the Salem witch trials lends a delicious subtext to proceedings, making it as akin to the cinematic territory of The White Ribbon as it is to The Shining.
Released nationwide 11 Mar by Universal Pictures