NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, February 17, 2016, 4:00 AM
Ralph Ineson is the patriarch of a doomed New England Puritan family in the equally doomed “The Witch,” which is not very good.
What dark magic bedeviled so many critics into praising a plodding horror of a film as “The Witch”?
Director Robert Eggers’ debut feature about a 17th-century New England family terrorized by unseen forces wowed last year’s Sundance Film Festival. But it’s mystifying why, given this witches’ brew of half-formed subplots, under-baked themes, a grating score and unlikable characters.
Ralph Ineson stars as a patriarch of a doomed Puritan family trying to survive in an unforgiving remote farmland stalked by the titular Satanic-worshipping sorceress (Bathsheba Garnett).
If the devil is in the details, Eggers gets points for the five years of labor he put into making the film look and sound authentic. Whole chunks of dialogue are taken straight from period texts, while costume designer Linda Muir’s hand-stitched work is worthy of display in a museum.
Relative newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy is a particular revelation, elevating the potentially cringe-worthy role of the family’s eldest daughter, whose flowering sexuality leaves her a target for witchcraft accusations.
And Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography mines the most out of the creepy woodlands. Every frame has an unsettling feel of rot.
But there’s not much of a coherent plot that’s been summoned up to go along with those impressive visuals. And the scares often seem positively arcane: the rabbit in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is more fearsome than the black hare that pops up regularly as a harbinger of doom.
Early on, it seems that “The Witch” is tapping a higher metaphor for coming of age…or religious intolerance…or man’s uneasy balance with nature…or something. It doesn’t take long into the film’s hour and a half running time, however, to break that spell.