LFF 2015: Robert Eggers' dread-filled debut is a tale of 17th century suspicion
Pain, fear and paranoia form the twisted basis of this strange and chilling tale about a Christian family in 17th century New England, who are banished from their community after their strongly held beliefs come under scrutiny. When their baby son is stolen whilst in the care of eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), and taken to the oppressive woodland surrounding their isolated farm, mistrust slowly slithers through every inch of their household, until it morphs into hysteria and consumes their tight bond of trust.
This is Robert Eggers' first feature and it’s a knockout in terms of visual flair and dread-filled potency. Kate Dickie (Red Road, Game of Thrones) is flat-out superb as a mother on the edge, Ralph Ineson conveys the confused emotions of a stern but vulnerable patriarch who tries to do right by his family, and the aforementioned Taylor-Joy turns in a pitch perfect and dedicated performance. Also appearing are Harvey Scrimshaw as noble son Caleb, and the wonderful Lucas Dawson and Ellie Grainger as gleefully creepy twins Jonas and Mercy, who skip around chanting songs and chasing a majestic goat named ‘Black Phillip’ round their farm. That they spend much of their time baaing like sheep to the slaughter adds to the delicious and delirious terror.
A note at the end of the film informs the audience that much of the dialogue was taken from transcripts of trials at that time and, despite the electrifying supernatural charge and dark fairytale imagery, the family's plight is gilded with realism. With a troubled harvest and money basically non-existent, their desperation becomes a pounding agony, with the haunting score by Mark Korven heightening the tension. Eggers delivers a powerfully gripping experience, that writhes around in the wretchedness of despair and sorrow and that's marked by spine-tingling horror. This is nerve-shredding, exquisitely crafted cinema captured by the assured hand of DP Jarin Blaschke, whose lens renders all that unfolds oppressively grey and gloomy.
Screening on Mon 12 and Wed 14 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2015. General release TBC.