Heavily advertised as one of the scariest films in years, Robert Eggers' The Witch is certainly something. Since this is a horror film, we must ask the most important question: is it scary? Yes... Only not in the traditional sense. While the film has very obvious supernatural overtones, they aren't the focus of the fear, that instead comes from what the supernatural does to the characters and what they in turn do to each other.
The story revolves around a large English family living in New England I'm the 1630s. They get banished from their town and are forced to work the land on a small farm on the edge of a mysterious forest. Things begin to go down hill when their new-born goes missing seeming out of nowhere. What follows is a story of religion, family, and insanity in a time period when these things were almost mutual, which is also a part of the story.
One of the films best features is it's cinematography. The frame is presented in 1.66:1, which both extenuates the horizontal nature of the landscape and forest, but also gives the feeling of claustrophobia, as if there's something always closing in on the characters, be it their faith or the tension which surrounds them. The frame itself is spectacular, with composition which bring to mind classical paintings of the ear, like Stanley Kubrick's work on Barry Lyndon. My only problem is the color palette, which while thematically and visually appropriate, featuring desaturated and pastel earth tones, it doesn't feel unique due to the abundance of films in the past decade that have adopted this style, even if it is needed or not. The art direction and costume design are all stellar, with excellent period details that make them feel as though they jumped right out of the era. Another thing worth mentioning is the score, which much like Johnny Greenwood's work on There Will Be Blood, is seeping with sinister atmosphere due to its unusual instrumentation and melodies, sometimes not even sounding like actual music as much as it sounds like the emotion of a moment was given sound.
As for acting, there is much to discuss. Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin is a revelation, her innocent face and large eyes bringing to mind Emily Watson in Breaking The Waves. She manages to both innocent and authoritative, while cruel and subtly seductive, yet manages to exude the charm of a young girl who fears God's wrath. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie are both excellent as parents who slowly descend into madness, and special mention goes to Harvey Scrimshaw as the second eldest Caleb, who gives the film one of its most chilling moments...
My only true complaint is the general premise reminded me heavily of Lars Von Trier's 2009 film Antichrist, which is a film a very much enjoyed.
So finally, if you enjoy seeing a leveling crafted portrait of time and place, with fantastic visuals, acting, production values, and music, see this film! Just don't plan on sleeping that night, I don't think I will either.