SilentDawn’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watching The Witch was one of those singular, “lightning in a bottle” experiences where I had to, during one particular moment of hysteria and scuttling horror, remind myself that it was only a movie. I was in a theater with an audience. A man was loudly chomping on his large popcorn in the same row where I was cowering. It was a typical screening, but the images and sounds festering out of the screen were far from ordinary. I felt like I was transported, living and breathing all the paranoia, anguish, and eventual destruction. It’s an unnervingly alien piece of work, confident in its spiritual roots and the faithful family that the film revolves around but ultimately searching for a transcendent, unholy getaway. It’s also one of the most fucking terrifying things I’ve laid my eyes on.
Woven by various accounts and fragments of the 17th Century, Robert Eggers’ debut film (How?!?!) is an authentic cinematic tome painted in blood and shadow. Its language, mostly based on the time period, instantly places the audience into the painstakingly beautiful world that Eggers has crafted. Costuming and set design are matter-of-fact, feeling alive rather than constructed, and it allows the viewer to escape into the film’s horrific realm without a hitch. Everything seems tangible as if it all happened and a film crew decided to craft a masterpiece around the disturbed elegance occurring in front of them.
The actors feel just as oblivious, shaping their characters around the claustrophobic wilderness devouring their lonely homestead. Instead of dread slowly seeping into the film, it’s already there from frame one, rising from the depths like an ancient force. The Witch is a horror classic that’s molded out of predestined evil, surrounding all of us long before we were here and long after we’re gone. Its Images are sourced from the inner crevices of countless nightmares but they’re evoked with a surgical eye. Each composition is eerily steady, heightening the frenzied instants of evil to a point where you want the camera to turn away. It doesn’t.
Its score, composed by Mark Korven, furthers the unflinching outlook of the production, raising the volume to an overwhelming level while alarming chants and jangling strings compliment the imagery in the most assaultive way. It’s absolutely nerve-shredding, going one step further than you expect and tearing into conventional expectations. Much like the film, it’s unpredictable in spite of its classical roots, sending a visionary chill up the spine. The Witch isn’t a pastiche, but a landmark entry in the horror canon, propelling a startling story through a quivering lens and observing the gradual descent into hair-raising wickedness. Going even further, I am both terrified and in awe of the editing, pairing images of foul splendor with hideous monstrosities to a point where I was dreading any succession of cuts for what may lie ahead.
And yet, so many aspects feed the completed picture, one that screams with mania but whispers in tongues of turmoil. Within The Witch, nothing is safe. Even the trees feel like a gateway to a haunting unknown. The engrossing family drama (each performance is a knockout) taps right into the sinister aura of both the time-period and the folktales of its titular character, and the dual threads of disorder and spookiness clash in an ending to float along with, as if the very essence of gravity is lost while a master takes you on a journey. New sounds. New sights. A new leap for horror cinema. I feel honored to have been able to see this in a theater.