A laugh comes at last just before the end credits of Robert Eggers' lit-class horror-bummer The Witch: a boastful note attesting to the documentary truthfulness of the dialogue in the movie we've just seen.
Over 90 minutes that prove shriekiness is no impediment to ponderousness, we've beheld the harrowing of a Puritan family cast out of a Plymouth-like settlement for not being precisely the right kind of pious. We've admired the effort put into the realization of a 1630 New England, the thatched-roof production design and the scratchy woolen shifts, and the way most shots' stark boldness suggests 17th-century woodcuts. We've invested, perhaps, in the suffering of young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), unjustly accused — as all bonnet-wearing teens in movies must be -- of witchcraft.
We've maybe relished the occasional vision of mythic, pre-industrial terror: the hag fondling a baby, the goat whose teat spurts blood, the apple whose red has been made even more lurid with a coating of gore. And we've seen wholly unambiguous evidence that, in the reality of the film, there are witches in the woods, and that Satan does have nothing better to do than to dick around with pioneers' livestock.
The Witch offers the same cheapjack lesson field-trippers get when they visit tourist-trap museums in today's Salem, Massachusetts. Eggers' film sides with the preachers and executioners. It literalizes the fevered horrors of our God-mad ancestors -- and then brags that it's all steeped in research. It's like if, a couple centuries from now, the latest holo-deck true-crime horror-flick is a West Memphis Three story that wraps with the boys high-fiving Lucifer.