Feature: The Witch

In this exquisitely made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unravelling in the New England wilderness circa 1630. 
 
Writer-director Robert Eggers – in his feature debut – provides a modern take on witchcraft by returning to the nightmares of the past, when a God-fearing public perceived witches as real, women were routinely persecuted for practicing folk magic that threatened the patriarchy of the Church, and the old crone on the village outskirts was thought to actually be killing children.  
 
Centring on one Puritan family living in rural isolation whose faith and devotion is disrupted by a primal horror lurking in the woods, The Witch marks the debut of a major new voice in the horror genre. Winner of the Directing Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, it succeeds in producing jolts of horror that are disturbing without feeling cheap. In the words of its creator, “There are jump scares in the movie, which are fun and necessary, but they don’t ask the big questions about life,” Eggers insists.  
 
“The dark side of humanity is right up there with the light side – it needs to be examined so we can better understand who we are. The horror stories that cut the deepest are ones that confront us with the darkness we contain as a society, and also individually.” 
 
The Enduring Power of the Witch 
 
For many, the witch is synonymous with cheap Halloween costumes or a cackling Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. But witchcraft has deep and enduring roots in early American life, particularly in New England, where in 1692 hysteria reached a fever pitch with the Salem witch trials, in which scores of women were put to death for charges of witchcraft and consorting with the devil.  
 
In her October 2015 volume, The Witches: Salem 1692, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff documents the evolution of the witch as a feminine force of evil coursing through the ages.

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