Directed by Robert Eggers (2015)
A "New England folk-tale" that resides in the claustrophobic, religion-besotted heads of a family living by their wits (or lack thereof) in the wilds of Massachusetts colony, sometime in the 1600s. Everything about this film makes one happy for the march of progress, science, technology and reason, and hopeful that those who tread the same ground we now live upon will enjoy commensurate gains in all four areas 350 years from now.
Yes, "THE WITCH" is a horror film, though I found the horror and violence located more at the heart of the family's puritanism-run-amok than in the strange and fleeting flashes of actual gore and witchcraft. There's a tremendous sense of foreboding established from the first scene, in which the family is cast out from their village for following their own extreme version of Christianity. Father William (Ralph Ineson, who is phenomenal) leads his family to a windswept and untamed patch of earth at the edge of woods to establish a new life centered on toil, farming, more toil and lots of prayer. Starvation looms, and the family start keeping secrets from each other in order to gather sustenance and stay alive.
Naturally, it's the children who fall upon the evil secrets lurking in the woods. It's always the children. A coven of witches? Or overactive, brimstone-fueled imaginations? Either way, it's played for scares, yet not in a campy, cartoonish manner at all, but rather as part of a grim, sickly and often sexual dance in which family members drop (or drop out) one by one in a ritualistic succumbing to all of their worst Satanic fears. There's even a cloven-hoofed black goat who gets in on the demonic action.
"THE WITCH", which I saw on a bit of a whim, was a real surprise - a dark, twisted and wholly restrained (given that it could have gone over the top with much "bubble bubble, toil and trouble" tomfoolery) indie. My big takeaway was the short, nasty and brutish nature of the era, and how I'd make any deal I could with any cloven-hoofed goat I came across to not be reincarnated in those times.