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[Review] ‘The Witch’ is the Horrific Historical Period Drama We’ve Been Waiting For!

They could have been safe. They could have lived long, sheltered lives together as a family. They could have survived easily within the confines of the village, but father had to succumb to his pride, and claim himself as the most devoted Christian amongst his peers, even going as far as to insult the lawmakers in town and question their religiosity. Based on his conceit, and his refusal to offer up an apology, father, mother, and the children are banished to the outskirts of the plantation, where they are left to fend for themselves against the witch of the wood and her evil magics.

At first, it seems that all is well and their faith has offered a coat of protection which shields them from wrong. However, when the youngest of their clan, their baby Sam, goes missing, and their crops wither and die, the family members grow paranoid and rabid, pointing fingers at whomever seems most suited to shoulder the blame — more often than not the accused is the oldest sister Thomasin. Whether or not Thomasin actually is at fault is of little importance, for the family will fall apart long before they discover the truth behind their bad luck if they continue down this dreary path of backstabbing and distrust. They pray to the sky, fear the trees, and bleed their bodies of illness, but all of their superstitions and hopefulness for a fresh start in the new world can’t save them from the corruption of the doubt in their hearts, and the black magic that seeps in through the cracks of their damned souls.

From literary works, to drawings, to cinema, depictions of witchcraft have always carried with them a subtext of some sort. Whether it be a comparison between the Salem Witch Trials of the 1700s and the witch hunt in the 1950s by blacklisting enthusiast Senator McCarthy, the idea of conservative religious types labeling people they don’t understand as “witches”, or just the notion of a girl developing her powers as she matures from a young lady into a grown woman, the use of witches in pop culture often goes hand in hand with a deeper meaning. However, where The Witch stands apart from its predecessors is its portrayal of magic as a parallel for the struggles that the British felt when they first arrived in the States, and the paranoia that personified as a result of their failed attempts to survive on American soil.


Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie give spellbinding performances as the devout couple so entrenched in their religion that they are willing to turn on their own children if they feel their lord demands it. Anya Taylor-Joy is spectacular as the sweet, innocent child who grows tainted when the harshness of colonial times drives her family mad, and the evils of the wood slither out and persuade her parents to abandon all reason and treat her like a heathen. As her purity is defiled, the light in her eyes grows wicked and dangerously playful, lending to the thought that perhaps all her family’s accusations towards her might hold some legitimacy. Watching these three members interact is a real treat, as each argument keeps the viewer guessing as to which party is in the right, and which is slowly losing their grip on reality.

However, the real surprise in this film is newcomer Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays Thomasin’s little brother Caleb. Caught between craving the love and approval of his parents, and his sympathy for his ostracized sister, Scrimshaw delivers a relatable, conflicted persona as the boy who wants to defend his sibling, but doesn’t dare disobey his elders. Scrimshaw executes this attitude with ease, but his most impressive moment comes after he falls ill of an unknown disease, and fights for his life on a sweat-soaked cot under the watchful eyes of his loved ones. As he shrieks and howls and begs to be put out of his misery, Scrimshaw displays the power and discipline of an actor well beyond his years. It will be exciting to follow what promises to be a fulfilling career for this talented young man.

From the youngest toddler to the oldest Puritan, each member of the cast delivers their lines with the kind of enthusiasm that demands undivided attention. Their success is due in large part to a beautifully crafted script by director Eggers, who smartly pulls much of his dialogue from real diaries and manuscripts of the time period that he portrays. By using written words found from the actual days of pilgrimage, Eggers offers up an authenticity that keeps his film grounded in grueling reality, even when the magic seeks to uproot and whisk the story away into a fantasy land. Because of this, the film itself carries the grit of a historical drama, as the actors echo out real dialogue spoken by real settlers, as opposed to words written by someone who’s simply guessing how people of this time period might have spoken.

The relentless, suffocating tension that permeates each scene is present from the moment the movie starts, until the end credits roll. The haunting cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, the sinfully unsettling score by Mark Korven, and the raw, committed performances of the cast combine to make a stunning directorial debut for Robert Eggers, that in the end, leaves the audience as anxious and gut wrenched as the characters onscreen. Above all else, Eggers made a movie that inherently touches its viewers, leaving an impact as sweltering as the coaxing influences of ancient hypnotizing magics. An excellent use of religion as a fear tactic, The Witch plays on the terrors of the time period as much as it does the witchcraft, creating a scary foreign world for naive newcomers who have grown accustomed to England’s safer shores, and punishing those who rely on their faith as a way of explaining that which they do not know. Off to a triumphant start, director Eggers has eerily crafted what is easily one of the best horror movies to come out in the past ten years, and possibly one of the greatest witch stories of all time.

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  • The movie looks AMAZING. The trailer alone is one of the best I’ve probably ever seen!

  • ChasingTheGhost

    Very excited for this.

  • Batmanfanboy

    Prediction… this movie will get amazing reviews and word of mouth until it’s released in February, then, even if it’s a master class in psychological horror(like Babadook and It Follows) all the stuck-up horror fans will claim it was overhyped. Casual horror fans will claim it’s boring.

    • Audiences (specially from the US) are so used to the garbage horror that Hollywood puts in their theaters that they think good horror comes from stupid jumpscares and gore, that’s why The Babadook and It Follows recieved mixed opinions with the audience, a good horror movies with great atmosphere, fascinating characters and well written stories? Bullshit, I want my jumpscares!!

      • Michael Lovan

        believe me when i say that you do not need jumps scares with this film

        • Batmanfanboy

          Oh man i’m excited beyond belief for this. I only wish it was releasing sooner or that our film festival in Vancouver had gotten this movie.

      • Darnell

        Yeah I was really surprised with the backlash that It Follows received. It’s a truly disturbing mood piece that I have grown to love more each time I view it.
        It’s no “The Shining” or “Halloween” but few things are. I just find it odd when most of the posters say they liked TCM: 3D but hated It Follows..

    • I can’t wait for horror fans to come out and say the movie isn’t a horror movie (just like they did with The Babadook). Claiming it isn’t horror and it’s a psychological drama or something of the suit. Just silly.

      • Batmanfanboy

        No kidding right, it`s so sad to see such cynics about a truly effective and original horror movie like The Babadook on this site, of all places. I can just see the same thing happening to this film.

        • Undead Lady-Parts of Ayn Rand

          Well, luckily, it’s easy to ignore those people. Which is good, because they come out of the woodwork any time something gets critically lauded and has a lot of passionate word-of-mouth, but doesn’t fit with the mainstream expectations for what that thing is ‘supposed’ to be (horror movies, games, etc.)

          Personally, I feel something that takes its time, is soaked in a sense of dread, but maybe doesn’t have any (or much) gore, and few (if any) jump scares is closer to ‘true horror’ (if that actually exists) than a film that’s just young-and-attractive-cast+gore+jump scares.
          I love the whole spectrum of horror movies, but over-the-top gore and (especially) jump scares are the laziest, most pedestrian tools in the tool box. If that’s all a movie has going for it, really, it’s more of a Gross-Out Film or Shock Film then Horror.

  • Michael Lovan

    Saw this at Fantastic Fest last night. It is easily one the best horror films I have ever seen.

  • CelticBull

    Brilliant! I had high hopes for this one, after seeing the fantastic trailer. Nice to see it’s apparently holding up to it.

  • Was lucky enough to see this at FF and I’m still reeling; it’s just stunningly crafted and infinitely creepy. There’s a very prominent, discomforting atmosphere that lingers in every scene, reminiscent of The Exorcist and The Babadook.

    Be prepared for a tidal wave of hype surrounding this.

    • How was the score? I heard it’s original and pretty good?! What’d you think of it?

      • The score was great. Just the production values as a whole were at a really high standard.

  • Dave

    Loved it follows and the babadook, but the trailer for this movie just did absolutely nothing for me. Didn’t seem creepy, or scary or anything. Mostly boring. maybe I can be swayed?

    • Batmanfanboy

      Under what circumstances did you watch it.. I watched it alone at night on my tv with the sound up and it chilled me to the bone.

    • johnggg

      Personally, I thought Babadook was a highly overrated film that had a very annoying child actor. It wasn’t scary at all, it was just super depressing.

      The Witch looks absolutely terrifying; the trailer was mesmerizing. I personally can’t wait to see it!

      • redeyedjedi410

        It wasn’t “scary”, but you gotta admit the sound/look of the babadook was creepy as fuck.

      • Rick-Taylor

        I agree with you on the Babadook, but I interpreted it as a mental illness shared between the mother and son. All Babadook scenes were them losing touch with reality. It made the movie much more interesting to me. I have a bias, being that my job includes working with mentally disturbed individuals; and the moments in the movie with the protagonist freak-outs are excellent mimics of what I see on a daily basis.

  • Scott Toomey

    I wish we could get a VOD release for next month. Hate having to wait until February to see this.

    • Batmanfanboy

      Oh man, if this could be Halloween viewing i`d be ecstatic.

  • Lady Bathory

    I want to watch this so bad! They really should release it on demand this october! I’ve watched the trailer about 7 times already and it keeps amazing me.

  • Derek Behrends

    The trailer didn’t do much for me, but that’s a good thing. I’m guessing it didn’t show the best scenes, so I will definitely be watching this and ignoring all the hype.


    hell yeah! this has the top spot on my list of must-see movies. and it’s reassuring to see so many good things about it being reported.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    I have heard lots of great things about this movie, from many reliable sources. My interest piq’d

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  • Brodequin

    I’m waiting…

  • The Mollusk

    Cannot wait. Love the atmosphere of this one!

  • Jenna Parks-Thomas

    So excited for this!!

  • sliceanddice

    the trailer was twisted as all Hell. looking forward to this.

  • sliceanddice

    and by the way, this is a bracingly well-written review. Observant and entertaining.

  • The wait for this one is pretty tough right now. Hopefully by February I still haven’t given in to my temptation to read a synopsis or watch the trailer. I’m going (hopefully) into this one blind.

  • blueskythis

    Yes I agree, excellent review!

  • Canucklehead

    Really enjoyed this. As a first time director Eggers did a great job. The slow burn of watching the family turn on each other was more frightening than the appearance of the witch. A great cast, excellent script and weird score rounded things out nicely.

  • Alex Dye

    I really enjoyed this movie, but for me I would characterize it more as extremely unsettling rather than scary, which is probably what the director was going for. And for that, this will be a movie that will stick with me much longer than most horror movies that come out these days.

  • 1EyeJack

    This movie was very well done. Great acting, great score, good story.
    Moody, atmospheric, and sad are words I’d use to describe this movie. Scary? No.

  • James Tillotson


    I just saw a second viewing. This movie really gets to me. It’s so good. There is just one thing I wish I could change: (spoiler)

    I wish that the script had been slightly changed so that Thomasin traded her soul to save the twins. I feel like it would have made it stronger. Another reason is because I’m sensitive to children getting hurt on screen and of course in real life. I knew harm was coming though and I feared it throughout the movie. I am just going to pretend that after the last shot we see of them in the shed with the Witch they get away off screen and make their own way back to the plantation. I know it’s implausible between the narrative and believability but it helps me sleep at night.

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