Robert Eggers, the writer and director of The Witch, his debut film sets modern viewers back to New England in the approximate year of 1630, six decades prior to the Salem witch trials in 1692 creating a horror story from actual records of the folklore and stillness of the culture of then times. As Eggers has explained often about his film “the real world and the fairy tale world were the same thing,” relating that the elements of what today’s society knows as natural occurrences to them of a primitive and naïve status frighten themselves immediately. The movie actually starts to unfold as if a legend in book sprung of the papers and created itself, with symbols and murky references all watched by a beautiful goat named Black Phillip.
The film opens with a family banished standing before the elders of a Puritan New England settlement in 1630 seeking their dismissal for overabundance of faith on the family’s part patriarch William (Ralph Ineson (From Hell )) sees as more of a lack of it on theirs. They leave quietly with all their possessions, ride more than a day’s travel from the establishment (as later learned in the film), and forced to attempt to survive on their own in harsh and unforgiving surroundings. At first his family struggles but surrounded by God’s love William’s wife Katherine (Kate Dickie (Outcast )), their oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy (Marrowbone )), about to enter into the marry phrase of life; his preteen son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) on the cusp of puberty. His responsibility extends even further to his two young mischievous twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson); infant son Samuel. They establish a farm on the blind faith in God and place every decision from the land for farming and a stream for water, and within a year, they have a solid home, barn, and the start of an autumn crop. William and family concept a righteous family to the Lord with devout prayer earns the rewards of his kingdom, blessed with some livestock, notably one white and one black goat. Every reader and viewer of these stories and films knows that in the forest near their home exists the unknown darkness and hidden dangers. This is the beginning of this family’s descent into hostility and madness. The family’s anguish starts developing with proving William as a failure at farming and hunting, meanwhile Thomasin engages in a game of peek-a-boo with Samuel (nearest moment of to a jump scare – this film never does what a horror movie normally patterns itself on, an extremely refreshing and a calculated risk). Suddenly with a moment he disappears, and the mad dash sets off the search, while her father decides the likely villain a wolf, dismissing all other possibilities and lies to the family to justify his position as all knowing. The audience is shown a cloaked aged figure carrying the crying infant she proceeds to perform a ritual sacrifice and anoint herself, the mutilation not shown, much to the chagrin of the harder edge horror fans, and this might become turn off to the younger fans as they crave this new level of carnage. However, the story goes deeper the kidnapping only sets off and larger expansion of the story, the family dynamics, with social and psychology impacts rain down upon them as carpet bombing. The faith tested and deceits spreading outward like a virus and contaminating the entire family and their devotion to the trusted Christian tenants, the wretchedness destroys the crops and causes the Black Phillip to buck high on his hind legs showing his dominance overall, especially the father. Katherine’s grief truly captures how a grieving mother would feel the suffering but goes into the Puritan beliefs that her unbaptized son Samuel now burns in the fires of hell, dismissed from the Lord’s love and banished never to be reunited with her own child. This movie contains quite a bit of symbolism, and might really take repeated viewings to capture all of the meaning, as it questions the Christian faith and accusations and cursing of damnation, separates the weak from their prayers and from the strength of family, it after all the death of Samuel comes from overtly prideful stance of William for the families spiral into darkness.
For the hype to The Witch of questioning Faith, and bone chilling horror, sadly does not measure up, notwithstanding the film, it broods slowly, the cauldron of evil swells from the dense darkness opening the hypocrisies of faith and casting spells to the unsuspecting individuals. The authenticity of the movie, led to the endorsement from Jex Blackmore of (The Satanic Temple National Spokesperson) and the creation of marketing campaign known as the Satanic Revolution to declare oneself a witch and to sign The Book, which totals over 1400 names prior and since the launching of the movie. However, since then the site is now defunct and here is the link to that interesting marketing concept at the time and what it was like:
As previously mentioned the film shows hypocrisies, without giving spoilers away, this one keenly insight Honor thy Father and Mother commandment (5th / 4th depending on which religion). The condemnation of false statements and actions committed by one of the parents, even though true, cannot be allowed by the child, a sinful act of then religion and still practiced by some more extreme religious sects and organizations of today. In fact, the extremism of today equals that of then, and some case surpasses questions the evil undertones in both centuries. The Father is the head of the household, name first in commandment, hence as one questions his sins the rule of religion trumps that one’s child cannot do that action, even if factual and true. Recalling it is Eve, who leads Adam astray, entices by the lure of Satan to have apple, hence translating the woman wrongful in actions, and requires the master to dominate in all manners, her role of submissions. One wonders, which religion and philosophy has the basic underlying sexual carnality and pagan attributes Christianity or Satanism. Another equal reference point during the film, a fresh breath, escapes providing the feminine individuality, not suppress due the Puritan beliefs, but moves onward lifting upward the mentality and independence that each woman holds for themselves and decisions. Then air of sexuality from Caleb, an incestuous view to his sister’s Thomasin’s cleavage doesn’t go unnoticed by her and yet keenly aware of his actions, a slight mischievousness grin briefly escapes, later leads to his awakening and crossing to the forbidden land of pleasures and corruption. Some viewers suggest the placement of subliminal messaging or imagining inverted pentagrams on Black Phillip, these rumors at this time find themselves unfounded. The Satanic Temple has officially gone on record, calling The Witch, a “transformative satanic experience.”
Taylor-Joy carries the lead in the movie exceptionally especially impressively as it is her first major role in her first feature movie, minus her one spot on television episode and an uncredited role in the horror comedy Vampire Academy (2014). Her demurring fits the role perfectly and has already earned her more roles for productions. The movie truly uses the best materials the language fits the period piece well, and does add to an authenticity to the film, along with structures, clothing and tools used to create the aspects into the movie. The first 40 minutes builds slowly as mentioned but a style eerily similar to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), working the moments, the characters, luring everyone into place, before unleashing the devil and is conjuring tactics once one signs the book and the audience never sees his face, only the voice supplied by Wahab Chaudhry.
In conclusion of this lengthy review, that anyone can tell, I thoroughly found this film entertaining and marvel at what Eggers delivers next some hinted it is a Nosferatu’s remake, an interesting choice. However, this movie uses quality horror fables and weaves them with an excellent crafted film, creating the tension and psychological hold that many fans crave for it. Nevertheless a portion of the genre will pass on this film especially when millennials seek instant gratification, instant shocks, continuous actions, essentially no foreplay, right to the moment of gore, bloodlust the devil himself. Otherwise, if you want the maturity of horror to take hold of you then sit and await the coming of The Witch and Black Philips they will be along shortly.
This review was originally published in March 2016 on the now defunct Rogue Cinema website and accumulated a view count of 2,301.
- A New-England Folktale.
- Evil Takes Many Forms.
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10