Robert Eggers’ debut “The Witch” is a marvelous and absolutely mesmerizing film. It’s not just an incredible horror film, but a fantastic examination of how a family basically tears itself from inside out due to ideas of resentment, sexual repression, and pure isolation. Not many directors debut with a bang, but “The Witch” is a slow burn horror film that begins with the fuse burning and burning until Eggers delivers something of a humongous explosion that will leave audiences speechless. Eggers sets his film on 17th Century New England, where a patriarch of a small family named William is threatened with banishment by a puritanical plantation with his wife, daughter Thomasin, younger son Caleb, and fraternal twins Mercy and Jonas. Vowing to free himself of the puritanical village, William builds a secluded farm at the edge of the woods, swearing to thrive with his family at his side.
During an ill fated afternoon when young Thomasin is watching baby Samuel, he’s kidnapped and taken in to the woods by an unseen force. As grief and anger take a stranglehold of the family, Thomasin begins to experience the slow disintegration of her familial unit. Mother Katherine begins to display gradual resentment toward Thomasin, and father William is forced to take sides. All the while Thomasins brother and sister insist Thomasin is a witch and claim to talk to their black goat Phillip. While many people definitely accuse “The Witch” of being something of a pro-religious movie, I tend to interpret what Robert Eggers has unfolded so differently. “The Witch” is more about how religious fanaticism contributes to the slow destruction of a family unit.
Through the elements that often contribute to the rotting of a family, pure evil does exist and finds an easy entrance; much in the vein of “The Exorcist.” Eggers does have something of a sympathy for the religious and religiously devout, but not to the point where “The Witch” becomes about the supremacy of Christianity. As the climax can attest, Christianity holds very little water in the world depicted in Eggers’ movie, and something much more powerful inevitably seizes this family. Eggers flips the narrative on its head by the first half hour, by showing how religious paranoia and hysteria becomes the downfall of one small family. Yes, the evils are potentially real, but it’s able to thrive because these people are ruled by their religious bubble that has granted them so many conflicts.
Eggers is a genius, framing a wider scope of our small setting, allowing this family to feel engulfed in what is a dark and mysterious land that they’ve yet to really familiarize themselves with. Director-writer Eggers relies on a slow burn without making “The Witch” feel like a chore to endure just to get to the finish line. He craftily delivers small pieces of the puzzle, and injecting an uncomfortable energy as the story progresses, allowing the audience to interpret if what we’re seeing is pure evil preying on a family, or a family merely tearing itself to shreds thanks to a horrific tragedy. What “The Witch” ultimately represents is something of self-fulfilled prophecy completely ravaging a family gripped with hysteria and religion. Right through the very end it’s an absolutely awe inspiring masterpiece steeped in everything from folklore, urban legends, and fairy tales.