Main cast: Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainger (Mercy), Lucas Dawson (Jonas), and Bathsheba Garnett (The Witch)
Director: Robert Eggers
Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie were both in Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, although Mr Ineson’s scenes in that last one were deleted. Do these people come at some bundled discount rate? Then again, I think everybody who is even a bit of an actor was in Game of Thrones.
At any rate, The Witch, which is Robert Eggers’s directorial debut. This is the story of a family in the 1630s trying to make it in a patch of land just outside a spooky, secluded forest after they were banished from their Plymouth Puritan colony over some religious disagreement. Alas, the crops fail to thrive, the chickens lay broken eggs, and life is hard when William soon proves himself to be an incompetent hunter and farmer, and nobody else is able to step in as the family provider. Then, eldest daughter Thomasina loses the baby Samuel to a witch – babies apparently can be grounded into paste that lets naked, crazed women in the woods fly – and it’s all downhill from here.
This movie is a lovely work of art, in the sense that the entire farm was built from scratch to be as historically authentic as possible, the characters speak in the manner of those folks would in the 17th century, and the whole film relies on natural lighting (the sun and the moon, plus candles for the interior shots) to preserve the atmosphere of realism as much as possible. The whole thing is lovely to look at, especially when Ralph Ineson takes off his shirt to chop firewood. William may be a terrible provider for his family, but he sure doesn’t skimp out on the workout.
While the threat of the evil witches in the woods remain constant throughout, the real terror here is the school of beliefs held by William and Katherine that unwittingly trap their children under a reign of tyranny. Sure, they are religious, but this particular form of religion is built around the fact that God is a fearful, wrathful deity who will be unforgiving and merciless when it comes to punishing the flock. Couple that to the belief that all man are sinners, and we have children who are raised in a suffocating atmosphere of constant repression, self-loathing, guilt, and fear.
The eldest daughter Thomasin has to put up with the worst brunt of her parents’ hypocrisy and tyranny: William willingly lets Katherine blame his eldest daughter for transgressions and mistakes committed by him, while his wife seems to resent her eldest daughter as she clearly favors her son Caleb and her younger children. They will not believe that their other children are capable of sins, but will happily believe that Thomasin has sold her soul to Satan to justify their own failures. They keep a badly behaving black goat but no, these superstitious people believe that the daughter is the evil one. Let’s just say that it is not a shock at all when Thomasin ends up doing what she does in the last half hour of the movie.
Interestingly, I don’t find this movie to be putting down Christianity or the concept of faith at all. If anything, it shows that venerating a god out of fear can lead one down the slippery slope into a dark place, one where the devil or whatever will have a much easier time manipulating the person into committing evil deeds in the name of the god. Such misguided veneration breeds cruelty and intolerance, and it drives other people exposed to such veneration away from the worship of such a god. Perhaps, worshiping a deity out of love rather than the fear of spending eternity in hell is the way to go.
At any rate, The Witch is a slow-burn, atmospheric movie that is more about psychological horror than gore or jump scares. It’s definitely worth a watch for the feels and the way the movie will make viewers think about usually uncomfortable issues with regards to faith, parenting, and the colors of one’s livestock.