The Witch

Feb 18, 2016

It'll scare the bejesus out of you.

The Witch

Grade: B+

Director: Robert Eggers

Screenplay: Eggers

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson

Rating: R

Runtime: 1hr 30 min

by John DeSando

“Evil is the nature of mankind.” Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

Hawthorne would be comfortable writing in the world of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, depicting 1630 Puritans and the repression fostering that witch hunting world. (Need I mention Hester Prynne?) Sins have been committed, no doubt, and retribution seems to be the order of the day, but as in any solid horror flick like this, the evil forces are not clear, hiding as they do behind forests, quick cuts,  and darkness.

William (Ralph Ineson) and his family are banned by the elders for his pride, never fully explained but seemingly stemming from his willfully breaking of the communal laws or his severe interpretation of religious law. Once outside the safety of the community’s walls, the family is subjected to various horrors beginning with the snatching of the newborn child.

What witch snatched him, and it’s never in doubt that witches are responsible, is briefly conceded to the shot of a voluptuous, ravenous female seducing teen son, Caleb (Harvey Schrimshaw).  Beyond that truth lies a host of allegorical possibilities including Brown’s sweeping indictment of humanity (see intro quote) with thoughts no doubt going to Adam and Eve.

More possibilities lie in the teenage lust Caleb has for his beautiful teen sister, Thomason (Anya Taylor-Joy) and his brother and sister’s collusion with the black goat, a sure stand in for the demon. Along with Dad’s sinful pride, these sins seem waiting retribution and what better situation than this self-righteous family situated on the edge of a Hawthornean forest peopled by witches.

Beyond the explication of punishment and myth, The Witch is just darn good horror filmmaking: The mise en scene has multiple little objects to carry bleak-house metaphor well, the cinematography emphasizes the dark landscape and hidden horrors, and the characters are grimly poetic enough to be holding pitchforks in front of a gothic farmhouse.

Having been a Catholic altar boy and schooled by nuns, I can vouch for the film’s accurate and titillating setups for sin and guilt. This is a horror film bound to please horror geeks and novices and the rest of us sinners in between.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at