It may not be doing Robert Eggers’ The Witch a favor to describe it as a terrifying movie. It’s a superior, elegantly moody horror film, more substantial than frightful, about a family in colonial Massachusetts turning against itself. The possibility of reasonable explanations fades as the supernatural becomes natural.
Set in 1630, the film begins with a family of six being exiled from the Plimoth Plantation for religious nonconformity. A horse-drawn wagon carts them out of town and drops them into new pastures. The refuge lasts only a short while. After the crops fail, the family is driven into the forbidding woods to hunt.
Minding her baby sister one day, thirteenish Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) plays peekaboo. Though her eyes are covered for only a second, the baby vanishes. Eggers cuts to a crone’s sagging arm, clutching a knife over the naked baby.
Dark omens abound. After meeting a mysterious red-cloaked woman in the woods, Thomasin’s elder brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), returns to the farm. Upon seeing him, Calebs’ father describes him as “pale as death, naked as sin and witched.”
The pale colors add to the film’s sense of doom. Against this muted palette, fresh blood pops out of the screen. One warning: It’s said that an English speaker of today, traveling back in time, could only understand conversations if they went back as far back as the Shakespearean era. Shakespeare hadn’t been long dead in 1630 and the script is full of dialogue you strain to understand. Still, it’s startling to see a movie with such an appreciation and aesthetic understanding of this too-infrequently filmed era.
‘The Witch’ is playing at Century Northgate, 7000 Northgate Drive,
San Rafael. 415.491.1314.