Heather Alvarado’s review published on Letterboxd:
I can't remember the last time I left a theater after seeing a horror film and being happy to find out it's still light outside.
Finally, after over a year of hearing nothing but critical acclaim and a recent, full endorsement and partnership with the Satanic Temple itself (how fucking awesome is that), THE WITCH has landed and officially declared its spot as 2016's indie horror success story. But with all horror films (studio or independent) they are the ones that, good or bad, divide audience members everywhere, and surprise surprise, THE WITCH isn't any different. So before I say anything, I'd like to point out that regardless of whether you thought this movie was scary and/or "overhyped", this is the film (whether you realize it or not) you've been asking for and finally deserve.
A flawless concoction of mixing fact and fiction into a completely immersive cinematic experience, THE WITCH is the real deal. Partly based on the first real accounts of witchcraft in Colonial America, the film concerns a Puritan family that has been banished from their community, and end up residing on the outskirts of a secluded forest. Once settled, the family starts being subjected to mysterious supernatural forces leading the them to believe their eldest daughter is in fact a witch.
Striking attention to detail and phenomenal sound design are the technical keys to the film's visceral and atmospheric success. Entirely hand built sets and sewn outfits are incredibly authentic in transporting us back into dreary 1600s America. But not quite as much as the actors, who grasp their characters and surroundings with such conviction that regardless of how hysterical or outlandish their behavior is, you believe them. There are several terrifying moments towards the climax that would not be as impactful if not for the powerhouse performances. (And I know it's only February, but this film's ending, is the ending to beat in 2016)
Director Robert Eggers is in such control of his craft, it's hard to comprehend this is his feature debut. His confident approach to beautiful open spaced photography with minimal editing to firmly mount tension and suspense is so effective, it's annoying. But let's not forget the haunting score and sound work that's used very selectively amongst the quietness, making the noise seem much louder and scarier when it blasts on screen. It's such bold and self-assured decision making, that very few directors (especially first time directors) would dare to attempt in such a fast paced age of filmmaking.
And last but not least, thematically this film is on another level, proving once again high concept ideas are overrated. While definitely a horror film with many scary supernatural elements, the real fear lies in watching a family completely fall apart at the seams. Grief is something everyone at sometime will experience and unfortunately, some handle it better than others. And it's in watching a family that is already on the cusp of doubting their faith, slowly grow paranoid and behave violently and irrational towards each other, making the "witchcraft" element seem like the least of their problems.
THE WITCH is no doubt a game changer in showing everything that cinema is capable of being and ultimately should be.