“I hate witches. Humans had the right idea, burning them at the stake.” — Charlaine Harris “Dead to the World”

I’ve never been fond of witch movies, except for the 1958 “Bell, Book and Candle,” that featured Kim Novak as one.

I liked Billie Burke’s “Glinda” in the “Wizard of Oz,” but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a witch that was really scary, except for the middle one in a production of “Macbeth.”

Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” naturally is several notches above those efforts. There are no coned hats or flying brooms of course; this sorceress is quality. It’s loved by prestige critics and was a big hit at Sundance. It reeks of class and polish.

There is one terrific, beautiful shot of a coven of naked millennial novice witches romping around a big bonfire in the woods. But that isn’t scary, it looks more like a breakout of Kappa Delta girls after an evening of tequila shots and Bud backups … until they levitate; and,(full disclosure) I have seen K.D. girls levitate.

Eggers’ film begins with a scene we’re told is derived from court records from the early 1630’s New England trials. William, (Ralph Ineson) no last names here, and his family are being dressed down by the local Christian counsel for, I assume, not being properly politically correct. It’s not clear.

So William and his flock, five kids and his dutiful no nonsense wife, (an excellent Kate Dickie. Both Ineson and Dickie are from “Game of Thrones”) are thrust into the woods. There is young Caleb, a preteen scamp, (Harvey Scrimshaw who has a delicious possession scene all his own, that includes spitting up a poisoned apple, two twin girls, (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) and a lovely older daughter Thomasin (a very good young actress Anya Taylor Joy.)

After being banished, the family arrives at a clearing ground. Before long they have their dream house, a nice barn, a pen for the animals and a really big woodpile. You’ll see that Williams is almost obsessive compulsive about chopping wood. Things are looking good.

Here I should say that the film should have been called “The Woods.” It’s the star. It just sits there full of the promise of dark things, monsters and ogres, gremlins and trolls.

That’s the age-old trick, of course. Give us an invisible creature, and we can’t take our eyes off it. Dark woods are always good for a scare or two, and this one lives up to that reputation. Camo jackets will do you no good in these woods.

One day, Thomasin, while playing peek-a-boo with her infant baby brother, gets a shock. When she opens her eyes, he’s gone.

Is that someone running off into the woods? Is it man or beast, or is it our promised witch?

Eventually we get what passes for a real witch, when Caleb, chasing a rabbit (watch out for this rabbit) meets, and is seduced by a buxom necromancer Kim Kardashian-ish (Bathsheba Garnett from “Mean Girls”) vision who lives in a tree trunk hut deep in the forest. The dark lady plants a full kiss on the boy that leaves some herpes sores. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Bad things, you can think of them as scary, or just annoying, begin to happen: blood in the goat’s milk, rotted eggs, decaying corn, and bad weather.

We’ve seen all of this before in decades of evil forces movies, but I will say Eggers does it better than most without the hokey fun, even throwing in a bit of sex, some nudity, a moment of what appears to be a late night tryst with a goat, and one incestuous glance.

But for a few interesting moments, “The Witch,” with or without a broom, rarely flies.

Warning: A sweet dog dies horribly.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.