The Witch

THE WITCH, hor­ror, rated R, Re­gal Sta­dium 14; Vi­o­let Crown; Dream­Catcher, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Michael Abatemarco

Wil­liam (Ralph Ine­son), a re­cent ar­rival from Eng­land, and his fam­ily find them­selves ban­ished to the edge of a dark wood out­side a Pu­ri­tan New Eng­land vil­lage early in the 17th cen­tury. The ban­ish­ment is for an un­named of­fense Wil­liam has com­mit­ted against the church, which, given the di­rec­tion the movie takes, one can guess has some­thing to do with blas­phemy. While the fam­ily strug­gles to reap a har­vest be­fore the on­set of win­ter, their in­fant son Sam is ab­ducted, pre­sumed to have been car­ried off by a wolf — but in time, it be­comes clear that some­thing more sin­is­ter is in the works. The film fo­cuses on Thomasin (Anya Tay­lor-Joy), the el­dest daugh­ter, who was with the child when he van­ished in a brief in­stant while Thomasin’s eyes were closed. Thomasin comes un­der sus­pi­cion from her mother Kather­ine ( Game of Thrones’ Kate Dickie), who blames the girl and treats her harshly. When Wil­liam trades Kather­ine’s sil­ver cup for traps to catch the “wolf,” Kather­ine blames Thomasin for the theft — and Wil­liam says noth­ing, at first. Two younger sib­lings, Mercy (El­lie Grainger) and Jonas (Lu­cas Daw­son), spend much of the film play­ing with Black Phillip, the fam­ily’s sin­is­ter-look­ing horned goat. Mercy thinks Sam was car­ried off by a witch, and when Thomasin teases her, claim­ing to be that very witch, Mercy be­lieves her sis­ter. As events grow more omi­nous, the fam­ily re­al­izes it’s not just their lives that are at stake, but their souls.

The Witch is a great-look­ing film, set in an ap­pro­pri­ately stark, dreary land­scape, and draw­ing on au­then­tic New Eng­land folk tales, ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor Robert Eg­gers. It’s a wel­come re­turn to vil­lage hor­ror, a sub­genre that was pop­u­lar in the 1960s and ’ 70s with films like The City of

the Dead (1960) and The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). But in The Witch, un­even pac­ing, stilted di­a­logue, and mum­bled lines make for a lack­lus­ter af­fair. Al­though Eg­gers’ film is mostly free of jump scares, its many sud­den bursts of loud mu­sic have the same ef­fect. The film’s best mo­ments oc­cur around the mid­way point, when Thomasin and her brother Caleb (Har­vey Scrimshaw) go early one morn­ing to check on the traps set in the woods and Caleb, like Sam, also van­ishes. He even­tu­ally stum­bles home, bat­tered and sick with fever. Scrimshaw’s phe­nom­e­nal per­for­mance as the stricken young Caleb is con­vinc­ing and gut-wrench­ing in its hor­ror. He’s the best thing in The Witch, which does con­tain some fine act­ing, par­tic­u­larly from Ine­son and Dickie. But long, quiet mo­ments are in­ter­spersed with the more fright­en­ing ones, of­ten bring­ing what­ever ten­sion has been ratch­et­ing up to a grind­ing halt. The cli­max presents us with a phan­tas­magoric se­ries of im­ages, but the pay­off, hinted at from the start, is en­tirely too ex­pected.

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Get­ting a wild hare: Anya Tay­lor-Joy

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