The Witch Review
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Many of today’s popular scary movies follow clueless young people as they face some kind of sinister threat—either real or supernatural—while tweeting all about it to their friends. But in the creepy Sundance hit The Witch, writer/director Robert Eggers focuses on a troubled teen from long ago.

The Witch follows a devout family of colonists as they try to survive on their own in 1630s New England after they’re expelled from their community. Together, they struggle to grow crops and care for their animals—and when their baby suddenly vanishes one day while in the care of oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the family’s delicate balance begins to crumble. As they begin to accuse each other of everything from theft to witchcraft, some terrifying force seems to escalate its attack.

  
 
The Witch isn’t the typical modern-day horror movie. It isn’t loaded with cheap scares or monster makeup or even a lot of gore. Instead, it’s slow and eerie and suspenseful, taking its time to let the relationships unravel and the story play out. So for those who prefer the non-stop scream-fest, this change of pace could feel slow and somewhat dull—and not especially terrifying, either. Because as far as the scares go, the idea behind it (as well as the buzz surrounding it) is often scarier than the execution.

The story, meanwhile, isn’t especially well-developed. We don’t really know much about the characters or their history—apart from the fact that the father was a pastor in the community before they were sent away. And some of the characters (especially the family’s young twins) can be shrill and irritating.

The highlight of The Witch, then, is in its psychological aspects—in the family members’ fears, their faith, their superstitions, and their suspicions. Once the baby goes missing—and with no logical explanation—their imaginations run wild. They imagine the evils that haunt their family, and, in an attempt to explain the inexplicable, they eventually give up on their safe theory that a wolf snatched the baby, and they begin pointing fingers and placing blame on one another. But even this facet of the film isn’t exactly obvious. It’s gradual and understated, with tensions boiling up under the surface. And while it doesn’t necessarily make for a spine-tingling thriller, it still makes for an intriguing one.

Tense and disquieting yet generally more subtle than shocking, The Witch is an old-school scary story with some absorbing family dynamics. If you’re looking for a armrest-gripping kind of horror movie, this isn’t it—but the family’s fears and suspicions will hold your attention through the slower moments.


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