Set in the 17th century a family is banished from their community for the crime of conceit, and are forced to resettle alone in the remote wilderness. Their farm is failing and all hope of prosperity seems lost when suddenly their woes are confounded by the disappearance of their infant child. Believing it to be the work of Satan, the two grief-stricken parents spiral into a state of madness and believe a witch to be amongst them. And so begins a nightmarish descent into psychosis and paranoia.
I saw the film in a full cinema and the divide amongst the audience was palpable. Those without the historical knowledge made themselves known to the rest of us. They would laugh at the New English dialect and scoff at the character's acceptance of the divine. The fact that these people were watching THE VVITCH at all was hard to comprehend and the only logical assumption is that they were expecting a generic run-of-the-mill horror film (as opposed to the existential art film that it is)... The rest of us were thoroughly engrossed.
This is a dark and deeply disturbing film, saturated with despair. Its images are confronting and, at times, repulsive, and it is a story without light. The performances are outstanding, with the children being particularly good, and it is an astonishing feat to have them deliver such sincerity from a complex dialogue that rivals that of Shakespeare, not to mention the maturity of the themes and situations they're asked to convey.
THE VVITCH is director Robert Eggers' debut feature film and one that ought to cement him a place amongst cinema's greats. His whole approach to the film is audacious and contradicts what popular culture would demand of such a story. He avoids the tacky cliches, and yet relies on some very traditional ones, and with an authentic and unforgiving environment he has crafted an original and terrifying horror film that recalls the nightmarish work of Argento and Polanski.
The running time is long and the narrative would benefit from some ruthless cuts. With 10-minutes stripped from it, the film would be as close to immaculate as anyone could expect. It is nevertheless one of the most disturbing and atmospherically consuming films I have seen in a long time. It is an experience that lingers long after the credits roll and one that becomes more potent upon reflection.