(director/writer: Robert Eggers; cinematographer: Jarin Blaschke; editor: Louise Ford; music: Mark Korven; cast: Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Julian Richings (Governor), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers Jay VanHoy, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Daniel Beckerman, Rodrigo Teixeira; A24 Films; 2015)
“The somber religious drama works just fine as a contemporary American indie curio, with excellent historical detail.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Former production designer Robert Eggers writes and directs an impressive debut film, one that is exceptionally well-crafted. Eggers based his script on actual diaries and accounts from a family that lived some sixty years in New England before the Salem witch trials. In 1630 New England, the banished from his community arrogant ‘True Believer’ English farmer William (Ralph Ineson), leaves his colonial plantation with his wife (Kate Dickie) and five children for a remote spot on the outskirts of a dark forest. Weird things occur: animals become unruly, the crops die, his baby vanishes while walking near the woods with the oldest child, and another child is demonically possessed. Paranoia overcomes the troubled family, as they accuse teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) of witchcraft–something she vehemently denies. Things worsen and everyone’s faith is tested in strange ways. The devout Family’s religious devotion mixes with superstition. The result is the devil appears to be real and the family too weak to fight it. Things look authentic for that period of history, and the unknown actors give convincing performances as a family crippled psychologically by their irrational fears and ignorance. It looms as an Ingmar Bergman kind of psychological arthouse drama with horror film trappings. What’s more, the actors speak in the English dialect of the 17th century. That further adds to its authenticity. Though its scares are not the usual horror pic ones but those that are more unsettling of real people who use religion as a counter-force against love and are trapped living in a cold world with their dogmatic beliefs as shields against their dangerous surroundings. The somber religious drama works just fine as a contemporary American indie curio, with excellent historical detail. It’s a film that gets under your skin in an unsettling way and provokes further thoughts about the early Puritans in America and their lasting influence on American culture and on modern American fundamentalist religious extremism. It’s a well-presented narrative of eerie incidents, such as the family goat suddenly producing blood rather than milk. While it gives a grim view of the isolation of its featured Puritan family. Though not scary in the usual modern-day horror film ways, it’s frightening to view the austere landscape and the narrowness of how the devout family perceived the world.
REVIEWED ON 6/13/2016 GRADE: A-