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Carlos Prime [Celluloid 09.28.15] horror

[Editor's Note: Review written by Carlos O'Leary, one of our guys-on-the-ground at this year's Fantastic Fest in Austin. Watch for more coverage as the days go on!]

The crisp autumn air echoes from ear to deep bone and surrounds the senses in biting poignancy. Slowly and menacingly, winter approaches to claim the unready back into the earth. Families must provide warmth and shelter. Survival puts personal sacrifice into perspective. As we see the family excommunicated and banished from town, the concern for their way of life is immediate and relentless.

New England folklore punctures its way onto the big screen in what may be the most faithful adaptation of derivative tall tales from the region. The Witch captures the single-family horror story in a close-range instant, diving head-first into each character’s personal combat with fright.

In the first handful of scenes, the film provides an irreversible tragedy, marring the family’s cohesion and faith. The inability to cope with the circumstances causes a rift that steadily and painfully tears the family apart. As they try to regain a sense of balance from their loss, the hits keep on coming from an unspeakable source in the nearby woods that not only relishes in the idea of setting them against one another, but prefers to target the weak and vulnerable for unending torture and perversion.

From its onset, it lashes out in nauseating dread. Senses of cold, fright, and solitude are key to its presentation and linger throughout moments where most horror films tend to slow down. The film is essentially bookended with magnificently chilling events, with the meaty center of it being occupied by the piously terrified family blaming each other and learning to undo years of trust.

The crisp imagery is essential to the film’s brilliance, illuminating the notion that a return to nature is not always a prudent or preferred option. As picturesque as the woods and streams are, make no mistake- they are inch by immeasurable inch the very last place you want to be.

Its complete absence of cheap jump scares that still pollute most modern films sets The Witch in a rare category where a horror filmmaker knew what he was doing and refused to blatantly follow a pattern for a few easy yelps. Writer/director Robert Eggers constructs an intricately petrifying world that takes its time and keeps you dreading the next encounter.

Using actual wording from folk tales and court sessions of the era, the reality never feels interrupted. Anya Taylor-Joy gives a remarkably powered performance that should catapult her career. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie do such immaculate recreations of puritanical parents, you’ll feel guilty for not having been kept alive by The Lord that day.

Visionary, commanding, and patient, The Witch is when Baba Yaga lures somebody from The Crucible and hip-tosses them into the 8th circle of Hell.

Recommended Release: The Village

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