In what circumstances is evil created? It’s a question many terrorism films attempt to answer, but few horror stories work to understand the underpinnings of malevolence as much as they often merely present it as fact. Not so in “The Witch,” Robert Eggers’ absorbing new horror thriller that is indeed also a terrorism story – one in which you’re never quite sure until the end whether the terror is internally or externally manifested.
Eggers keeps your stomach roiled throughout his twisted “Hansel and Gretel” tale of a devout Puritan family excommunicated for the father’s righteous heresy and banished to live on the edge of a wood. Isolated, starving, and inundated by one mysterious tragedy after another, the family quickly descends into religious fervor and suspicion. A claustrophobic mood piece anchored in its spectral, screeching score and jarring edits, “The Witch” sometimes veers too far into restraint. Yet, it’s the performances that keep your eyes glued to the screen, most notably Kate Dickie (“Game of Thrones”), who is quickly becoming the go-to actress for sinister breastfeeding sequences. She transforms her character from a pious harridan into a woman who emanates the devastation her husband’s patriarchal pride has caused their family.