Horror movie fans never fear a lack of gore in their viewing options. There's virtually always fresh splatter to be found on one screen or another. But a genuinely effective creep fest is harder to come by, and can conjure a storm of sometimes impossible-to-live-up-to pre-opening buzz.

Horror movie fans never fear a lack of gore in their viewing options. There's virtually always fresh splatter to be found on one screen or another. But a genuinely effective creep fest is harder to come by, and can conjure a storm of sometimes impossible-to-live-up-to pre-opening buzz.

Such is the case with "The Witch," which has had genre geeks champing at the bit since it was greeted with raves at Sundance last year. Those walking in with reasonable expectations will find that, on the whole, "The Witch" lives up to the hype.

First-time feature filmmaker Robert Eggers pored through historical documents at the Smithsonian museum in Salem to help craft his thoughtful, terrifying story of a puritan family besieged by evil in New England circa 1630.

Shortly after arriving from England, William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children are banished from their walled colony of settlers due to vague conflicts over the practice of their faith. The family sets up alone on the edge of a wall of dense woods, ill prepared to fend for itself.

Their crops rot, their supplies dwindle and family members go missing. Early on in this plague of events, a gruesome scene involving a shadowy, sinister figure in the forest confirms that an external force is targeting the family. But they must also contend with the fear generated by their own extreme piety, which has parents and children seeing sin and demonic influence in every corner.

Eggers seems at a bit of a loss as to how to end his tale, but his blurring of the line between fanatical hysteria and actual menace is expertly handled, establishing how the family members' devout beliefs have essentially made them fish in a barrel for the creature in the woods.

A slow-burn pace helps ratchet up the dread, along with the work of cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who casts the action in cold, gray, unforgiving light. And an exceptional cast makes it all resonate.

Rising above the rest is Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, the preteen eldest daughter, who bears the brunt of the family's suspicions about the evil that may have infiltrated their home. Her wide-set eyes and natural beauty form the picture of innocence, but as with much of what's seen in "The Witch," there's a chance of something insidious under the surface.