Grade A

The most horrifying movie I’ve seen in years comes not from Hollywood, but from Canada, and a low-budget production at that.

“The Witch” is a story set in the 1600s in America.  A family (Ralph Ineson as the father, Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest daughter, the two main characters) is banished from their community because of Ineson’s strict adherence to the Bible.   They start a new life deep into the wilderness, but an evil lurks within the woods near their home.  One tragedy after another falls upon the family, and their frustrations slowly make them turn on each other until witchcraft is uttered and harsh words escalate into violence.

To be clear, when I say this movie is horrifying, I am not talking about the cheap scares one finds in so many movies…you know, when a creature jumps out at the same time extremely loud music is played.  Any idiot with a cellphone camera can do that.  “The Witch” is masterfully directed in the old-school way (a minimalist approach, if you will, where the camera is set up and kept still, and the actors are left to simply give brilliant performances).  A simple but very creepy score compounds the tension and fear, turning a shot of something that normally can be considered beautiful (such as a wide shot of the woods) into something dreadful.  Watch this movie alone in the dark, and I promise you will feel an evil presence lurking behind you for most of the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Witch” is the scene when Joy, after being teased and frustrated by her younger sister, grabs and tells her sister that she (Joy) is the true witch of the woods.  That Joy made a pact with the devil, and if the younger sister doesn’t behave, Joy will kill her and eat her pink flesh.  Oh, boy!  You know that conversation is going to come out some day.

Fans of typical horror fare may want to skip “The Witch.”  Unfortunately, many people have been force-fed garbage horror to the point where that is what they are used to; and when they finally watch a well-made horror movie, they are bored and say the movie sucks because they want to see the monster over and over again and get shocked by “jump scares.”  But fans of true horror movies, you should not miss “The Witch.”  A bit of a caveat: this movie is hard to understand because of the actors’ accents and their use of old English.  But pay attention and you’ll get it; and you will be treated to a rare piece of true artwork in filmmaking.

— M