Remember how let down you felt when The Blair Witch Project never even showed a witch? Remember how you never really saw anything scary in the film, unless you count Heather Donahue’s snot and twigs as really scary?
The Witch, the Sundance Film Festival-award-winning directorial debut from Robert Eggers (who also wrote the script), actually has a witch in it. She makes her first appearance early on in the film, and she’s doing a bad thing—a really, horribly disturbing, oh-that’s-how-this-movie-is-really-going-to-start?! bad thing.
Set in 1630s New England, with an exceptional attention to detail, this masterpiece offers various ways to interpret its events and themes. Eggers has made a horror movie with some major meat on the bones that stands among such classics as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.
Oh lordy, is this film creepy. The sense of dread kicks in immediately after William (Ralph Ineson) is banished from his New England settlement for getting a little too over-the-top with his religious beliefs. He and his family—his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie); their little baby; their oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy); son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw); and creepy twins, Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson), must head out into the forests and fields to make a life away from government and society.
The family has a lot of issues. William leans a little too hard on the Bible stuff, as does Katherine. Caleb is clearly going through puberty, and stares at sister Thomasin’s boobs in a way that surely would get him put in a time out in Sunday school. Thomasin, a budding woman, is starting to think there’s more to life than listening to her dad spout religious psychobabble and milking goats all day. As for the twins, well, they’re just a couple of scary kids who scream and dance outside while allegedly talking to the family goat, Black Phillip.
Let me just get this out of the way right now: You will hate Black Phillip. Black Phillip will give goats everywhere a bad name. The next time you see one of those goats shouting like a human being in a YouTube video, it’ll hit you in a much different way.
Thomasin engages in a simple game of peek-a-boo with the toddler, and the witchery commences. The Witch takes place decades before the Salem witch trails, and the movie seems to be asking the question, “Say … what if all of that hysteria was based in truth?”
While Eggers’ film is not in any way historical, the setting does provide a deliciously nasty premise for an outrageous horror movie. His period details, including the excellent costuming and structures, suggest what the times might’ve been like. When you throw in witches drinking blood and shoving apples down kids’ throats, you get a scary vibe that is all too real.
There are many ways to interpret The Witch. Some will see it as a straightforward witch tail. Others might see it as an allegorical tale of religious zealotry and radicalization. And still others might chime in and say it’s about going through puberty with super-uptight parents.
All of the interpretations work—and that’s what makes the movie so much fun for those of us who like to spend days playing guessing games about movies we’ve seen. I’m still thinking about the significance of certain moments, who was actually doing all of the dirty deeds, etc. I’m also remembering how unsettling Mark Korven’s score is, and thinking Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography should get some Oscar consideration.
I’m definitely hung up on Black Phillip, that damned staring rabbit, and those twins screeching and dancing in the barnyard. Eggers knows what is freaky—and The Witch pulls no punches. It will leave you frightened by apples, rabbits, twins, goats, muskets, pilgrim hats, babies, milk and—oh yeah, witches.
The Witch is playing at theaters across the valley.