‘The Witch’ – Film Review

A chilly horror film that’ll nibble away at your nerves

To call The Witch a horror film may give you the wrong idea. We hear ‘horror’ and we tend to think shocks, monsters, the catharsis of laughter after a nasty fright. The Witch is perhaps more a dread film that keeps you in a state of pent-up terror for 90 minutes, convinced that something terrible will come and then leave, as is the way of these things. But it doesn’t leave. It will follow you out of the cinema and revisit you from dark 3am corners.

In the 17th century, a family of seven has gone into self-imposed exile in a remote part of America after they deem the rest of their town to be insufficiently puritanical. In keeping with their ascetic approach to life, the family moves to the edge of a dark forest, sets up a modest farm and commences suffering to honour God. Then someone comes from the woods and snatches their youngest, a baby boy. A horrendous fate awaits the child and the family begins to turn on each other as they’re convinced the devil schemes among them. Something very bad lurks in the woods, but something just as awful is happening in their house.

First-time director Robert Eggers tells this lurid tale with a calmness that adds to the unease. It almost feels like the film is watching you as much as you’re watching it, the woods sitting unmoved in the back of most shots, hiding who knows what.

Eggers’ ability to keep hold of multiple ideas – parents’ fear of teenage sexuality; the hypocrisy of by-the-book religion; the dark temptation that comes with strict self-denial – while continually cranking up the fear is extraordinary in a brand-new director. Those who like their horror loud and bloody may find it too chilly, but if you like films that slip under your skin and nibble at your nerves, come and be terrified.