The Witch, writer-director Roger Eggers’ horror film set in 1630 New England, is kind of plain.
It avoids any sort of cinematic embellishments or flourishes. It doesn’t really do jump-scares. There are no lavishly creepy set pieces. It clocks in at exactly 90 minutes. In fact, the only facet of The Witch that really asserts itself upon the viewer is the fact that lead actor Ralph Ineson’s voice could reduce a rock to rubble.
Ineson’s Yorkshire baritone aside, The Witch is sort of like a tiny haunted house LEGO set made very slowly and entirely out of gray bricks. All the creaky doors and long dark hallways are there, but without the colorful Inception noises and strobe lights of modern cinema they’re laid bare for the viewer, whose left to either balk at a plain, gray LEGO house or take the time to examine its humble, robust architecture.
The Witch walks to its climax, taking its sweet time to look at the modest scenery along the way. It’s a slow build and when it’s done you’ll likely either be left marveling at the sturdy little gray LEGO house, or irked that you spent 90 minutes building something that can fit in your pocket.
Whether you go for The Witch’s modest slow burn or not, there’s little denying that the film is incredibly confident and competent. It may be sparse but it never feels like something was left out or forgotten or cut any more than a wood cabin feels like it’s missing a garage. This isn’t The Purge, or Saw or even The Babadook. A vast majority of The Witch could be effectively performed on an empty stage or in a living room during a particularly dope dinner party.
I hesitate to call The Witch “quaint” for fear of sounding condescending, as the film itself is by no means simple. There’s fertile ground here for discussions of patriarchy, Puritanism and repression. But there’s a reserved quality to The Witch’s storytelling that I ultimately found endearing. It’s like forgetting to put dressing on your salad and realizing plain lettuce has a hearty flavor to itself in its own right.
The Witch is the girl with glasses at the high school dance that just never takes off her glasses.