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The Witch is a New England Folktale from director Robert Eggers that may be considered a new horror classic that goes against the mainstream - being short on jump scares and more on the artsy side.
From early quotes calling it:
It really starts to build it up especially since that second one makes it sound like you could end up in jail or scarred.
Now while I first want to cover the non-spoiler stuff that I believe are crucial to know before and after you watch the film, I of course also want to get into my spoiler analysis which you can find by scrolling down to the big “SPOILER” tag.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, the story follows a devout Christian family that gets banished from their town when the father confronts the leaders for not following God correctly.
Obviously they’re not having that.
So the family then relocates near the outskirts of a forest where a sinister presence is watching them.
Now the film definitely has horror elements to it but it’s important to note that it’s just as much an accurate historical piece that dives into being a family drama.
And like I stated in the beginning, it’s very artsy. Of course, many people are going to see it as a slow burn and maybe find the ending to be worth it, while others will love the subtlety but think the last act is over the top. For me, I loved the subtlety and felt that ending really intensifies the whole thing.
I also know many people won’t watch it because of the witch element and being backed up by a satanic cult, which I wouldn’t either until you look into it and realize that it’s just as much a suspense film about God and faith that tackles the subject substantially better than most Christian films.
Looking into the first-time feature film director, Robert Eggers, we see why this film works so well. Having earned his dues as a production designer, art director, prop stylist, and even a set carpenter, he approached the project determined to make what he envisioned.
And also, break one of the biggest rules you learn in film school: Don’t film with animals, kids, or near water. He said, “screw it”.
But what he achieves is an atmosphere similar to that of recent films by Ben Wheatley, a domestic version of the Crucible, and even hits the right chords to be called "Kubrikesque" by some. Just like The Shining, it plays like a nightmare, has a meticulous design, and the way Eggers is able to direct three children within these horrific scenes, speaks volumes on how he didn’t traumatize them for life.
Eggers also stands out, because he’s not a filmmaker who has someone else do the research for him or just has the basic Wikipedia knowledge. No. This man studied his stuff for 5 years.
From the old English language that he implements, which may be hard to understand at times, but becomes ominous when you realize much of the dialogue in the film is taken from actual historical journals and transcripts from that time.
We are then absorbed even more through the production design where they not only built the farm from the ground up, but made it a fully functional one in where the actors were taught how to actually grow crops.
The camera is even altered to capture it all by manipulating the aspect ratio to make the frame taller to fit in the height of the trees.
You then mix in an eerie score of strings with choral voices by Mark Korven, who did the indie cult film Cube, and you’re fully immersed in this dark world.
It’s no wonder Eggers has been chosen to direct the Nosferatu remake.
But now, the spoilers, which I’m going to break down by giving a full summary of the film, explaining the themes, and what exactly is the witch.
Now the film begins with the family being banished into the woods when the father calls out the leaders of the town.
As they settle on their new farm, Thomasin (the eldest daughter) is asked to watch Samuel (newborn) where (as you've seen in the trailer) she ends up losing him to "The Witch". Right away you see what happens to Samuel; The Witch takes him back to her home within the woods where she kills him, rubs his blood over her skin, and eats him.
The mother, Katherine, becomes very hostile towards Thomasin after this. She blames her for Samuel's disappearance. The father, William, and the eldest son, Caleb, venture into the woods (in secret) to try to capture the wolf that they believe did this but are unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the twins, Jonas and Mercy, (which of course adds to the shining-like creepiness) constantly play with the black horned goat on the farm named Black Phillip. They also play tricks on Thomasin throughout so when Mercy tells her that she saw Samuel get taken into the woods by a witch Thomasin doesn't believe her and instead tells her that she herself is a witch, just to scare her and make her stop telling lies. As the family starts to suffer from a drought in crops, we see the family start to deteriorate as well. Thomasin struggles with her growing adolescence and guilt she carries, Caleb starts to notice his sister’s physical presence, William admits to his pride, and the mother is just ticking away. When Thomasin discovers what Caleb and William were doing in the woods she asks him to take her out to see the trap.
In the woods, Caleb and Thomasin end up getting lost when a small rabbit scares off their horse and dog. Caleb runs after the dog while Thomasin gets knocked out after falling off of the horse. When she wakes up, she is able to make her way back home while Caleb discovers the witch's house where she seduces him as a young temptress. Once again Thomasin is blamed for Caleb's disappearance until Caleb returns naked and very sick during a storm. Mercy calls out Thomasin for calling her a witch, to which Thomasin explains that she was only joking in order to have her stop lying about the witch and the evil talking goat.
Caleb ends up dying, and William decides to lock up the three remaining children in the animal shed, believing one of them to be the reason behind all of this. While locked up, The Witch appears in the shed in the middle of the night and kidnaps the twins, leaving Thomasin behind. When William discovers her the next morning alone he is suddenly rammed to death by the horned goat as Thomasin watches in horror. Katherine attacks Thomasin out of despair and Thomasin, in self-defence, is forced to kill her mother. As the only survivor, Thomasin returns to the animal shed and demands the goat speak. He makes her sign a deal and Thomasin goes off naked into the woods to join a coven of witches that have been living there all along.
Of course amidst all of that you have the creepy blood-milk, the goat doing more jacked up stuff, and probably the worse scene involving a raven you’ll ever see.
But that summary then leads us to the themes and how you interpret the movie. Either siding with the supernatural or the metaphorical. With the good vs evil.
Eggers does a fantastic job with this, being straightforward in interviews that the film is open for interpretation refusing to give one concrete answer but allowing many. And, in my opinion, handles it much better than recent films such as The Babadook, It Follows, and Goodnight Mommy.
There’s no worry whether there is a witch or not because he chooses to reveal her right away in the film, thus allowing the audience to feel her presence throughout.
Now you can then see the consequences in the film as the result of witchcraft. With the goat being the devil that dwelt with the family waiting for her to sign that contract. The witches feeling intruded upon their land, seeking out to take Thomasin as their own by the end. Going out and disguising themselves as animals, seducing, and picking apart the family one by one.
And for those who want that, you get it 100%.
But for me, I saw it more-so as a family drama where they were losing their religion and I believe that’s backed up with not only the actors’ descriptions but even the editor’s.
It builds upon this paranoia that becomes an over the top game of supernatural Clue at a point. You realize that a lot of the things they’re going through can be explained with the changing weather, being cooped out away from civilization but also being raised in a time where witches were known as scapegoats.
So by the end, Thomasin has no choice but to join the other outcasts like her that may have been banished to the woods or face death when the town finds out what happened to her family.
There’s also the viewpoint in which men looked at witches as the embodiment of feminism and not wanting the woman to mature on their own, thus for Thomasin, this would be the most jacked up coming-of-age film of all time.
More sides for the religious aspect are backed up with another short by Eggers titled The Brothers which is his interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel.
He knows the best way to tell a story about religion, without people getting distracted with what’s going on today or thinking it’s a personal attack on them, is by telling it in the past.
John Carpenter once said, “There are two different stories in horror: internal and external. In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don't understand. Internal is the human heart". The film pretty much mixes both with actually having a witch be out in the woods, but having the real terror come from the family’s paranoia.
So, what or who is the witch?
Well, it’s what we fear the most. In the film, we saw it be God or the lack of faith to God. We saw the family suffer from pride, lust, and the fears of growing up.
In those times, the witch embodied men’s fears and fantasies about women which ironically, to some extent, are still around today.
We also see that the witch feeds off of despair and that the witch can be anyone of us.
In the most ingenious viral marketing for a horror film, they let you put yourself in the place of the witch to exemplify that -“Evil takes many forms”
So, The Witch, it strives to bring out our internal terrors, our guilt, the things we can’t control, the things we can’t explain, and ultimately may give a false interpretation to.
That’s what makes The Witch so scary.