John Lees’s review published on Letterboxd:
THE WITCH is likely a film that's going to be hurt by its marketing. All the hyperbolic "THE SCARIEST, MOST INTENSE HORROR IN YEARS!" hype is going to bring in a Saturday night horror crowd expecting the next CONJURING style thrill ride, and they'll instead be greeted with a slow period drama with dense New England frontier-era dialect, and little in the way of gore or jump scare set-pieces. At the screening I went to, I heard several people walking out loudly proclaiming it to be the worst film they'd ever seen. A lot of people are going to go in expecting a conventional horror, and are going to be sorely disappointed.
And it is true, this is more a great character drama than a great horror, at least by what we might traditionally expect from a horror. The elements are there, sure. The cinematography is magnificent, with first-time director Robert Eggers crafting a sense of constant lurking dread. And there are a handful of unbearably tense sequences that will have you watching through your fingers. But even with adjusted expectations, the balance seems a bit off. The forest is thick with menace, framed in a way that makes it seem like something awful could leap out from behind any branch. But there is surprisingly little of characters venturing into it, and much more of them stewing within the confines of their secluded shack, turning on one another.
But though THE WITCH may not be "scary" in the broad, roller-coaster sense, it is a remarkably sinister film, and one which at times feels genuinely horrible and uncomfortable to watch. And much of this is down to the performances, each cast member powerfully selling their own particular loss of innocence out in the wilderness. The child actors are remarkably good here, wi the two younger kids particularly creepy and hateful, and the two older children giving heartbreaking, nuanced portrayals of kids at pivotal moments of transition in their life, kinda doomed from the off by circumstance. Also notable is that this has some of the creepiest animals ever to be on film. Black Philip will haunt your dreams!
Interestingly, I started this review by talking how it might fail to meet the expectations of horror, but in the time since watching it, THE WITCH has worked its way into my head and continued to quietly unsettle long after the film ended, in contrast to how many "thrill-ride" horrors are all about the visceral experience and not about sitting with you afterwards. A grower and not a shower, perhaps.