The Witch (2015) written and directed by Robert Eggers
William and his family (wife Katherine, teenage daughter Thomasin, a few years younger son Caleb, six-year old twins Mercy and Jonas, and a new-born baby) are kicked out of their 17th century New England Puritan village. The mayor implies that they have gone against the local civic and church laws; William protests that he has only preached the true faith of the gospels. The village has none of it, accusing him of prideful conceit. William is glad to leave. Everyone else in the family seems a bit reluctant.
The family makes a new farm near a sinister woodland. Thomasin takes the baby out near the woods and plays a game of peek-a-boo with him. She opens her eyes one time and the baby is gone! A quick search of the area reveals nothing, though viewers see a woman with the baby who takes the child to her hovel and does unspeakable things.
Meanwhile, the family has settled on the idea that a wolf took the baby. The mother is very distressed. She constantly prays. She also lashes out at Thomasin. While Thomasin is washing clothes at the brook, the twins come and accuse her of being a witch. She plays along in a nasty way, mostly to frighten the twins. Caleb is there and doesn't understand why she says those horrible things. Thomasin has had a hard time adjusting to life in isolation. The situation spirals further out of control from there as lies, misunderstandings, and deceptions wreck havoc with the family.
The movie is tonally very much like The Wicker Man (the one from the 1970s, I mean). It takes paganism very seriously and doesn't soften up anything. William's family goes through a psychological collapse that is made all the more harrowing because of the supernatural forces at work against them. The family's faith is little to no help for them--no divine intervention comes to save them and their focus on their own sinfulness brings about mistrust and violence, not reconciliation and redemption. Maybe the mayor was right after all?
The depiction of 17th century New England is meticulous. The sets and costumes look authentic. The dialogue sounds like the times--lots of archaic words and sentence structure. The speech is still easy to understand since the actors deliver it in a natural way. The performances are uniformly great. The movie is very convincing.
It is also very brutal. The movie is subtitled "A New-England Folktale," not in a Disneyfied sense but like the Grimms Fairy Tales that are a lot bleaker and more violent. This particular tale has a very unhappy ending, making it a tough watch all around. I found the very ending a bit disappointing but I understand what the filmmakers were going for. While I see fine qualities in the film and find it very engaging, I am not sure who I would recommend it to. If you are a fan of the original Wicker Man, this movie will be right for you.
Naturally, the good folks at A Good Story is Hard to Find have the courage to watch this movie and have given their comments here.