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With: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson
Written by: Robert Eggers
Directed by: Robert Eggers
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
Running Time: 92
Date: 02/19/2016

The Witch (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pride and Brooms

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A feature debut by Robert Eggers, this exceptionally intelligent, atmospheric horror movie more closely recalls Bergman than Craven, centered around human foibles as well as a hint of the supernatural. Eggers has gone the extra mile to create authentic-sounding dialogue for the early 17th century, as well as costumes and sets, not to mention behaviors and beliefs. Even the eerie music by Mark Korven sounds like something from another time, or another world.

In 17th century New England, a Puritan family is banished from a settlement for holding differing religious beliefs. Setting up their own farm in an isolated area near a spooky woods, the family struggles with not having enough food for the winter. One day, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is looking after the baby when it suddenly disappears. More mysterious, terrible things begin to happen, sending the fearful family into panic. Thomasin's mother (Kate Dickie) and father (Ralph Ineson) begin to grow suspicious of their children, especially after Thomasin is caught playing "witch" games with her younger brother and sister. Is there really an evil witch in the woods, and what is happening to the family?

Weirdly, The Witch isn't quite as flat-out scary as it may seem, despite its shocking "peek-a-boo" moment shown in the theatrical trailer. It's more fascinating, and transporting, as we navigate this seemingly primitive world that truly believes in witches. Eggers refrains from any kind of modern commentary as the movie immerses us in a gloomy, harsh existence, challenging us to read parallels — and trace pathways — to our current life. Primal and challenging, it could someday stand with the horror classics.

The Blu-ray release, from Lionsgate, is outstanding, with very fine picture and sound, a director commentary track (which seems to be becoming an increasingly rare thing these days), a short featurette, and footage of a Q&A, plus a design gallery.

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