I’m about a year-and-a-half late to the party, but Robert Eggers’s The Witch, (stylized as The VVitch) is a sloooooow burn, but rewards those who stick it out until the awesome, blazing climax. The Witch stars Ana Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, and Kate Dickie as an ostracized Puritan family, set in the richly historic 17th century New England (yes, around the Salem Witch trials period). Tensions arise, and this deeply religious family reaches closer and closer to the brink of falling apart.
The Good: The Witch is cinematically beautiful: dark, drab imagery and colors, (which makes the occasional shades of red within the bloody scenes all the more impactful); wide shots of scenic New England clouds set the bleak tone of the entire film. Ana Taylor-Joy plays oldest daughter Thomasin, whom the younger siblings begin to accuse of witchcraft…and the drama/horror exceeds from there. The performances are pretty outstanding as well, particularly from standouts Ana Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson. You find yourself unsure of which characters to root for and identify with initially, but as the story unfolds, you begin to realize who is flawed and who is really flawed, thanks to impeccable acting.
The film’s themes of 1) worldly temptations/Adam and Eve allegories, 2) finding your identity as you grow up and start to wonder what else is out there outside of your family, 3) roles of men and women in society/sexism/the demeaning of women, 4) and fundamental religious beliefs leading to paranoia and mass hysteria- linger far longer in your brain than this 93-minute art horror film would indicate.
Most awesomely, the main antagonist (**spoilers from this point forward**) is the family goat named Black Phillip, who is actually Satan himself in one of his many evil forms. I loved the fact that, after her entire somewhat-shitty, hypocritical family has turned against her, Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin kills her mother in a final confrontation, and we discover that it is not Thomasin who is the evil one at work here- in which they all accuse her of witchy behavior and placing curses upon the family- but the one to actually fear is indeed Black Phillip, who has been manipulating this family all along. Thomasin has never been the real antagonist in this story- all of this conflict, tension, and temptation has been in the hands of Black Phillip/Satan. How much more metal can you get than a Satanic black goat who is asking you if you would like to “live deliciously”?! The scene in which Black Phillip’s true identity is revealed to Thomasin, and she shares a conversation with him, is one of the most chilling and well-done scenes I’ve watched in some time. Black Phillip finally encourages Thomasin to become the thing they all accused her of in the first place (a witch) and she removes her clothing as she wanders off into the woods to join the group of other witches in the forest, as their bodies levitate toward the sky (as witches do). Fuck a fairytale ending- Thomasin was finally free to live “deliciously”.
The Bad: As well done as this film is, it is not perfect. As I mentioned before, the pacing is sooo damn slow, that if you have any remote form of ADD or impatience, you’ll almost lose interest entirely and begin scrolling on your phone looking at cooking recipes on Facebook 30 minutes into the plot. Also, as accurate as the dialogue is for this period piece- the writers took language straight out of fables from the 17th century- sometimes the characters’ interactions are difficult to understand for someone who is used to modernized language; I felt like I missed key exchanges between the family members sometimes…But stay patient, and you’ll be rewarded towards the climax.
The UGLY: Thomasin’s creepy younger brother Caleb, who is on the brink of hitting puberty, has a fixed fascination (aka incestuous, rape-y eyes) for Thomasin’s breasts. Um, I get the fact that their family has been shunned from society, and Caleb is a boy who appears to be around the age of 11-12ish who has hormones- BUT SHE IS YOUR SISTER. STOP LOOKING AT HER BOOBS. I gagged 😖. Thankfully, there are not many animal deaths in The Witch- animals dying brutal deaths are one of my only triggers in horror- but there is one shot of an aborted/stillborn chicken fetus that made me squeamish. It is a very subtle use of gore and blood, but it’s done effectively, which is why I think I squirmed.
There is good reason why this film scored an endorsement from The Satanic Temple when it first premiered in 2016 (which I visited last month during my trip to Salem.) An effectively sinister look at what happens when patriarchal religions outcast those who do not conform to it, The Witch is a must-see.