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Film Review: 'The Witch'

February 20, 2016 9:14 a.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "The Witch."

Related Story: 'The Witch' Conjures Up A Puritan Nightmare


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: The Witch, opening this weekend, won a best directing award at Sundance last year. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says it’s well deserved.

Filmmaker Robert Eggers shot his period film The Witch with mostly natural light. That means when night falls on the edge of a forest, you’re confronted by country dark, a complete and utter blackness that can stir intense fear because what lies before you is a vast and potentially terrifying unknown. That’s the sensation Eggers conjures up in his feature debut The Witch. He calls it a Puritan nightmare.

ROBERT EGGERS: It needed to feel like an inherited nightmare, awakening ancient ancestral fears we didn’t know we had even if our ancestors aren’t literally Puritans, we’re all sort of in North America faced with the same parts of the unconscious of western culture. So yeah, a Puritan’s nightmare I think is accurate.

Eggers draws on historical documents to create a film about what happens to a pious family forcibly ejected from their Puritan settlement in the 1630s and made to live on their own at the edge of a forest. Things go bad quickly. The crops fail, the newborn goes missing, and the little girl says there’s a witch living in the woods.

CLIP Witches coven

Eggers creates a luminously beautiful film about the terrifying folklore of his native New England. He conveys not simply the terror of the unknown or of the supernatural but also the terror that comes when fear makes people turn on each other. As with films such as Bone Tomahawk and We Are What We Are, The Witch challenges expectations about what we define as horror. Eggers delivers a stunning film about dread and the primordial fears that still lurk in our subconscious..

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.