"The Witch" is written and directed by newcomer Robert Eggers and it's set in the 1600's in Puritan times, a time in which religion and fear of the supernatural both loomed heavily over the people in that time period. The main focus is on this deeply religious family after their infant son is kidnapped by a witch and now it's about the family's struggles with the evil forces at hand.
To start off this review, I'll go ahead and say that this is a very different type of horror film. You have horror movies like the "Insidious" films that are creepy and effective for any mainstream audience member because of the demons and jump scares and all that stuff, but every now and then there comes a very unconventional horror film that's not meant for everyone, mainly because it's all about building atmosphere and constantly playing up the suspense rather than relying on jump scares and old horror cliches. "The Witch" is the latter in this case and in that sense, it does its job extremely well.
One of the things this movie did effectively was convincing me that I was watching an actual family in Puritan times rather than just actors playing dress up and speaking with fake sounding Puritan grammar. All of the actors did a great job of playing not only convincing Puritans, but also people who are genuinely terrified by the events surrounding them. Also, you have the production of the movie and it's equally great because it feels like a real setting with real people. Period pieces can be hit and miss when it comes to creating a realistic portrayal of its time period, but "The Witch" did a great job in that regard.
As far as the scares go, this movie won't win over everyone because of the slow-building tension that's always present in every scene. The Simple fact of the matter is that a lot of mainstream audiences (specifically teenagers) will judge a horror movie's scare factor by how many jump scares it has and how often they as an audience member jump out of their seat. All I can say is that people who expect that in this movie probably won't enjoy it as much as I did. For me, the movie creates a very moody, depressing, and creepy atmosphere that's uncomfortable to watch, but it's also effective in the tension that it builds. There's tension with the family and how they're dealing with the situation, and there's palpable tension in every scene in which some type of entity or presence is meant to be around, or at least implied to be around. This movie winds up the tension to an unnerving degree and it actually becomes very suspenseful as you anticipate what's going to happen next. There's no cheap scares or dumb blondes running around half-naked while getting sliced up, it's a horror movie that's actually horrifying.
At its core, this movie really is about more than just a family being terrorized by a witch. It has a subtle message of how religion and other supernatural beliefs can have an affect on a person. These beliefs are meant to bring some people peace and make them feel at ease, but these beliefs can also create a sense of extreme paranoia and ultimately have disastrous consequences in terms of how people view the world around them. You can argue all day long on whether or not these beliefs are psychologically healthy for a person to have, but this movie shows that for certain people, there's an undeniably negative outcome when they're so engrossed in their religion to the point where everything they do is based off of suspicion and fear. I love when horror movies actually try to be more than just a scare-fest and "The Witch" successfully pulls that off.
If I have any flaw with the movie, it's that it's an undeniably slow burn and I understand why it needs to happen. Hell, the slow pace plays in the movie's favor once the first 20-30 minutes are done with, but that's just it. After a truly disturbing and creepy opening sequence in which the plot is established, the movie comes to a bit of a halt to establish stuff like setting and characters and that's all fine and dandy, but I can't deny that the movie is a little boring in the beginning and I think a ton of people will agree on that. That being said, the boring parts don't last too long and once the movie gets going, it's an unforgivably dark and disturbing experience.
"The Witch" is one of those rare horror movies that's not only genuinely suspenseful and terrifying to watch in some scenes, but it's also a horror movie that actually lived up to all of the hype surrounding it. Unpopular opinions here, but I personally found movies like "It Follows" and "V/H/S" to be very overrated and not worth any of the hype built up around them, but thankfully "The Witch" can join the ranks of horror movies like "The Babadook" and "The Conjuring" in being horror movies that are genuinely scary and worth all of the anticipation. Like I said, this movie will be adored by anyone looking for an unconventional horror film with emphasis on atmosphere and tension as well as a solid story surrounding it, but anyone who wants nothing but jump scares and pointless sex scenes every five minutes will be disappointed.
Rating: Full Price!