Between sequels and remakes, horror rarely receives a breakout hit, and if it does, ala last year’s The Babadook, they’re dampened for not garnering repetitive jump scares. The masses have come to know such traits, so be fooled when something original rears its head and courageously battles uncommon ground. Cue director/writer Robert Eggers and The Witch, one of this year’s most unsettling pics.

A family in 1630s New England is torn apart on the land of an impassable wilderness as the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession infiltrate their home.

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The film opens as this family, a devout Christian one, is cast out, ominously, and take shelter in an abandoned abyss of unwavering isolation at the helm of a darkened wood. Immediately, The Witch is implausibly tightly-wound, with a quartet of strings surging and encapsulating blinding terror as this family stand at the foot of the forest, praying in sync and triggering off effects so palpably intense that you’d be forgiven to wonder where the hell this film will lead and how far it’ll actually go.

“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”, a husky, unforgivably menacing voice echoes throughout the picture as a horror icon in the form of a black goat is created. Black Phillip dons the screen and whilst some may calculate Eggers’ slow build as a waste of time, others will thank the escalating sense of foreboding dread that veins itself around the film’s tight running time, leading to a truly chilling climax. And whilst the film echoes in dread from every corner, this family, preying upon the time where witchcraft and black magic became suspicion and rife throughout daily life, tears itself inside out; an equally as terrifying insight into a family torn by speculation as fear and anxieties unravel in harmful quantity.

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Anya Taylor-Joy leads a cast of breakout young stars as Thomasin, the eldest child whose battle with family ideals and the wavering uncertainty of ‘is she a witch or isn’t she’ calculates disastrous effect as mother Kate Dickie defends her other children in an explosion of pointing fingers. Possession, dead animals and that portentous, scarring wood from afar are enough to issue a witch hunt but alas Eggers’ isolated family must issue survival techniques on their own — in this case, argue, place blame and let the good times roll.

This bleak and incredibly moody horror is constructed with unequivocal control, painting a focused standpoint on the exertion of Christian ideals and the haunting grasp it takes. Whilst its subdued nature may be hard to swallow for mainstream viewers, this muted debut is an impressive feat, both thought-provoking and visually menacing enough to shatter the norms of how horror should truly be orchestrated.

4.5/5

Dir: Robert Eggers

Scr: Robert Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw

Prd: Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond

Music: Mark Korven

DOP: Jarin Blaschke

Country: USA/UK

Runtime: 92 minutes

The Witch is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from the 18th July.

By Ashleigh Walmsley

Painful obsession with film and food. Constantly wishes i could live in a Steven Spielberg movie -- preferably Jurassic Park. Shooooot her!