The Witch delivered on everything except for scaring me, however. It's a stark... often times brutal.. look at the fate of a family which unknowingly lives at the very boundaries of horrific and terrible things. While it uses the Puritanical religion of the time as a force to drive the narrative, the film actually has very little to say about religion... a turn of events that I found quite refreshing. None of the characters are simple or fall into the trap of being one-note zealots; every single one of them is a wonderful, flawed, overwhelmed human being who rely on their faith for guidance and strength in the midst of things they cannot understand. There's no real indictment of that faith here which again, is terribly refreshing. The film could have fallen into the trap of delivering a Message rather than simply telling a story and letting the viewer draw back their own conclusions about the matter.
Really, the movie doesn't preach anything at the viewer. It's an effective figurative window into people going about their lives under horrifying conditions. Just as real life rarely serves up a neatly packaged moral message; neither does this film and that makes it so much easier to become immersed in the world presented to the audience.
I'm largely discussing the movie in terms of what it doesn't do rather than what it does because this movie is at its best when you find the horror in the margins or in the absences. Commonplace and comforting things become alien and dangerous. The normal becomes uncanny; this juxtaposition helps the movie get under its viewer's skin and make things feel... wrong. The soundtrack, which is largely comprised of violin and voices, collaborates completely in this process with volume playing tricks with the movie-goer's perceptions and dissonance priming the viewer for events to come.
As a horror film, I think the Witch succeeded admirably. I'm still trying to work out a good feminist analysis of the film, though. On the one hand, it tells a classic tale of the fear of a woman's power; on the other hand, it does absolutely nothing to make that power appeal to the male gaze. It's going to take me a few days to percolate this reading in my head.
So yeah. If you like horror as much as I do, go see this movie. It may not tell a new tale; but it tells the tale it does with a fresh set of tools in its toolkit of terror. That alone makes it worthy of checking out.