The best horror movies don’t stoop to “jump” moments. They gradually get under your skin and stay in your thoughts, dreams, even nightmares long after the end credits roll. We can’t look away not to subject ourselves to momentary thrills, but to find out what happens – held in the grip of a rich, complicated plot. The best comedies have a funny story, not just script, and the same applies to horror movies: they must have a genuinely frightening story. The Exorcist, The Haunting, and now The Witch are among this company.
The Witch follows a 17th-century New England family who is exiled from their village and builds a modest farmhouse on the edge of the forest. When they arrive to their new home, they get on their knees and pray to God, holding their hands out towards the sky as we creep closer towards the dark woods and ominous voices wail on the soundtrack. It’s unsettling, otherworldly, and scary as hell.
There are lots of great moments, of seemingly un-scary images and plot points that nonetheless crawl under your skin. The oldest son Caleb sneaks more than a few peeks at his sister Thomasin’s developing body. The twins talk to the family’s black goat. Another animal is milked by Thomasin, and from its udders drips blood.
Tragedy after tragedy strikes, culminating these smaller elements into broader brushstrokes of this very dysfunctional Puritan family. Visions and accusations of witchcraft spew like venom as their desperation grows. We don’t know who to trust, and if there even is a witch; but we do know what the family members are doing, which may be just as horrifying.
I’m definitely picking this up on home video, and am eager to re-watch particularly with subtitles. The heavy accents paired with an archaic dialogue, while exquisite to listen to, was at times hard to make out; I confess I had trouble following the action for a while. So if you see this in theaters, definitely keep your ears open – maybe you’ll understand English better than I do!