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‘The Witch’ Review Roundup: Critics Call Occult Odyssey Year’s First Horror Success

Robert Eggers’ debut praised as a high-tension horror show

Woe to you, O Earth and sea, for the Devil sends “The Witch” with wrath…and the critics have met it with exultation.

Making his directorial debut, Robert Eggers sent Sundance running to the hills in terror when he premiered “The Witch” there last year, and now his horror film about an exiled Puritan family that gets paid an infernal visit has scored an 86 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes before its wide release on Friday.

TheWrap’s Dan Callahan praised the film for taking bold risks with its exploration of religious and sexual themes, calling it “the kind of serious horror movie that will live in your head for days afterward, like a bad dream that’s difficult to shake.”

“Puritan-era New England is such a foreign time and sensibility to most of us that ‘The Witch’ could very well be taking place on another planet,” Callahan wrote. “And it’s an exceptional movie for taking full advantage of that strangeness, never adding any modern reassuring touches.”

“The Witch” opens Friday and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw. Here are some more positive reviews — and negative dissent:

Bryan Bishop, The Verge

“Where many films would hold back on the period appointments in order to help modern audiences adjust, Eggers goes in the exact opposite direction, opting instead for full and immediate immersion. William and his family speak with thick, Yorkshire accents, and their dialogue is peppered with antiquated constructions full of “thou”s and “thee”s. The filmmaker has said he fell back on Shakespeare when writing the film, and even pulled stretches of dialogue from letters written in the era, and it shows.”

Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

“We are meant to think of Salem and the contagious hysteria that epitomizes the phrase ‘witch hunt’ (confined, in this case, to one family unit). But we’re also left to weigh the strong possibility of supernatural doings and possession. ‘The Witch’ doesn’t really tip its hand until the end is near. It feels real, not in a tired found footage way but in the sense that you believe what you’re seeing. At 90 minutes, the film does an admirable job of getting in, doing what it needs and getting out. By then the spell is cast.”

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

“What makes this movie so effective, and so incredibly creepy, is that Robert Eggers, in his first full-length feature, deposits the audience there, too. And he leaves us, like the family, to fend for ourselves. With incredible attention to detail and an unwavering commitment to the world he has created, Eggers slowly, surely builds tension until it’s almost unbearable.”

David Ehrlich, Slate

“Combining the rigorous severity of Stanley Kubrick with the fevered paranoia of ‘The Crucible,’ Eggers directs this episode of pre-Salem hysteria with an unblinking formalism that makes every shot feel like it’s daring you to look closer…. His straight-faced commitment to his film’s central conceit would feel silly and self-important if it weren’t shared by his cast, and the fearless performances of Ineson and Dickie enflame our fears. (A line like ‘Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?!’ reads as inane in a review but in film’s steady gaze becomes both mordantly hilarious and horrifying.) William is a particularly tortured creation; as the patriarch’s Christian guilt dovetails with his failings as a father and his emasculation as a hunter, Ineson allows him to crumble with the care of a controlled demolition.”

Amy Nicholson, MTV

“Like the Puritans themselves, the movie shuns drama. It has too much moral virtue for jump scares. The most it gives in to modern movie gimmicks is when the horse vanishes and leaves them stranded, the pioneer equivalent of a dead cell phone. There’s not even enough witch. She shows up so infrequently we forget she’s there, and so we forget to be afraid — nothing ever leaps out to scream ‘Boo!'”

And finally, a big thumbs up from…

Jex Blackmore, National Spokesperson for The Satanic Temple

“While the patriarchy makes witches of only the most socially vulnerable members of society, Eggers’ film refuses to construct a victim narrative. Instead it features a declaration of feminine independence that both provokes puritanical America and inspires a tradition of spiritual transgression. We are empowered by the narrative of ‘The Witch': a story of pathological pride, old-world religious paradigms, and an outsider who grabs persecution by the horns. Efforts to oppress and demonize the heretic prove to be a path to destruction. The witch does not burn but rises up in the night.”