After seeing The Witch for a second time, I’m certain it’ll be talked about for decades to come as a horror classic. It had been 13 months since I initially saw the film at its widely hyped premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (my initial thoughts can be found here), where I was left with an indelible impression that carried all the way to this past weekend. There’s something enchanting about how director Robert Eggers crafts his New England folktale: the discordant, aggressively inescapable score acts as a character alongside these tormented protagonists, screeching violins and all; the cinematography is muted yet lush, capturing everything old-fashioned from a spooky, tall forest to a dark, animal-ridden farmhouse; and the script does not allow the audience to understand roughly half of the things being said due to the fractured English and evasive dialogue. This film, though, is not driven by dialogue or even plot, as most horror films often fall back on those conventional means. The Witch is aggressively simplistic in its form and presentation, relying entirely on atmosphere created through purely aesthetic means. Eggers’ film is almost exclusively powered by abstractness, a quality that creates a more sinister horror than any form of direct explanation or on-screen representation can embody. That’s why describing the plot here as “a family thinks their daughter is a witch” would be reductive and not scratch the surface on the film’s power. We finally have a horror film that delivers an inventive way of being terrified with a familiar narrative. The Witch testifies to the power of concise horror filmmaking over crazy plots, hackneyed villains, and unneeded horror sequels (sadly, many in the genre combine some or all of those three). If people like Robert Eggers keep receiving validation to make genre films as innovative as this one, the cinematic world will be a better place.
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