Moral slippage portends evil in Robert Eggers’s The Witch, a non-scary horror movie based on folklore and diaries. Set in seventeenth century New England, The Witch follows a family banished from a religious community for the father’s “prideful conceit.” Denying wrongdoing, the patriarch resettles his family into the woods. That’s when things start going south, slowly. Slowly, indeed: Although The Witch attempts to be a slow-burning horror film, it’s more slow than burning. That can partly be attributed to the formal, dated, and heavily accented dialogue, which, without subtitles, is difficult to understand. There’s also too much restraint. Intended to stoke ambiguity, this restraint becomes unnecessary once it becomes clear who the witch is (and the Crucible spin of the movie). Still, enough momentum builds and, in the third act, The Witch summons some conventional horror tactics to scare us here and there, getting a little sinister at the end. In some ways, The Witch succeeds: The acting, thanks to leads Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson, is convincing; the garb and mannerisms of the period are rendered in rich detail; and the movie underscores the neuroticism endemic in high-minded moralistic Puritanical thinking.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White