Witch movie poster

Writer-director Robert Eggers’ dimly lit debut feature is a curious, often fascinating bit of cinema. A closing onscreen note informs us that the dialogue and events owe much to actual court documents, diaries, and stories of Puritan New England. (That’s not to say that any of it is true, only that the God-fearing folks of that time and place were dead serious about it.) But those events also track beautifully with the upset caused by a beautiful young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) coming into her own in a family that is not equipped to deal with her. Without ever visibly transgressing, she serves as temptress, accuser, frightener, painful reminder, and general wrecker of domestic tranquility. Just the sort to attract a bad reputation in a religious hothouse already full of sorrows (the film opens with Dad chewing out his fellow Puritans for their false teachings before heading out to set up on his own by the edge of the woods). But if it’s all hysteria and metaphor, what actually happened to the baby whose disappearance marks the beginning of the end? That’s the queasy fun of it. The decision to raid primary sources was wise: it’s hard to imagine a modern artist crafting a world of such dismal theological clarity and sincerity. These are sinners in the hands of an angry…something. 2016.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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