Some official sources have this title spelled with two “V”s as in “The VVitch,” which seems to reflect the film’s poster. It harkens back to 1600s New England, when a more primitive form of our English language was in use. In those days, it was completely plausible that the one book found in a country home would be the family Bible. Can you imagine such a household? Not only is the Bible the only literature in such a house, but there is no record player, no radio, no phone connecting it to the town for emergencies. There’s just.. the family.
Director Robert Eggers does a phenomenal job of doing a whole lot with very little in this little, Sundance winning title. The Witch is my kind of horror movie. It’s much more The Shining or The Exorcist and much less Friday the 13th or Saw VI. I’ve always been more attracted to scary films that are founded on real life or true, horrific situations rather than the mad killer running wild or so-called “torture porn” that was so popular in the past decade. No, The Witch needs no such frivolity in its depiction of evil spirits and wandering souls in the woods.
Oh, those woods. Like any remote area, the woods can be a scary place. Was that something that moved over there? Is somebody there that can see me, but who eludes my line of sight? The feeling depicted in so many overcast shots of the woods in this film have us recalling the atrocities of the witch trials and the suffering of the innocents during dark chapters of American history. What I liked about The Witch was the “what if” of the whole story. What if once in a while, out there in the country, there really was that witch that plagued the people? And Eggers and his team does a fine job of convincing you of this plausible question. Whether it’s images of these deep woods themselves, blood in a bucket or a sick boy suffering from some unknown, sinister illness, all of the potential horrors of 1600s New England are on display to challenge our very modern perspective on family, home life, communication – and healthcare.
In the opening scenes, the family is outcast from a town and takes to a small farm, which they will manage as a team in survival mode. At first, the family feels blessed to be there, as if they’re destined to make a life under God in this New World. But, as is the case in so many horror films, trouble starts to find this poor family. The only difference with The Witch is that it all seems terribly possible. Inexplicably, the eldest daughter Thomasin loses her baby brother, Samuel, while playing peek-a-boo with the infant. I don’t know about your brand of that game, but when I play, my face is only covered for a couple of seconds. And so it is in The Witch, when poor Thomasin reveals her face, Samuel has disappeared. Only the woods remain.
Well, William and Katherine, the mom and dad of this little plantation, are none too happy with daughter Thomasin. They start treating her like an indentured servant as they continue to find fire wood, milk the goats and do other farm related activities. They blame her with more and more severity for Samuel’s disappearance and other violence that shakes their remote community. In fact, it’s the business of the farm work and the authentic use of old English that helps The Witch sell its audience that this is a depiction of what really happened. Apparently, the director went to great lengths to achieve this authenticity. The crew made the actual farm. The director studied old Puritan texts and hymnals and scouted the area for where they should shoot.
You’ll see from the trailer the kind of upsetting imagery and particularly sound design, which further complimented the look and feel of this movie. The music and sound reminded me very much of The Shining, which was an unsettling film to behold particularly because of its jarring sound design and erratic score. Like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Eggers’ film works because it takes you to a place that feels like it actually existed, with people that plausibly lived through what we’re watching. In the end, there is a bit of truth to every legend and fairy tale – and The Witch makes you think twice about the validity of crazy old ladies flying around in the night on broomsticks.