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Isolation, Religious Zealot, and The Witch (2015)

March 4, 2016

the_witch_poster_1200_1778_81_sSome of you will watch The Witch and find it to be an over indulgent, turtle-paced, poor excuse of a horror film. Some of you will watch The Witch and be completely spellbound by its placid enthralling tale that blurs the line between supernatural and mental psychosis. There won’t be any middle ground. Regardless of what camp you find yourself in The Witch is subversive and will evoke a strong reaction from you and that reaction should be examined and prodded.

I’m part of the latter camp. I thoroughly enjoyed Roger Eggert’s chill-inducing play on the folklore of witches in a time of scientific absence from society. Eggert’s screenplay follows a Puritan family headed by the husband, William, after their exiled from their village. Along with his wife, Katherine, the family must live on the outskirts of town cut off from community and support. Eggert uses their forced expulsion to patiently examine the portent effects that isolation has on the members of this God-fearing family. That isolation turns sinister when the family infant goes missing under the watch of the family’s eldest child, Thomasin. The comforting blanket of trust and support within this tight-knit family is quickly snagged unraveling into shards of shame, guilt, blame, anger, and fear during the film’s duration.

The religious candor of the family captures the zeitgeist of the Puritan era and every aspect of the their personal lives. The family continuously pray for the sins they are born with. They pray for sins they’ve committed in their heart. They beg forgiveness for sins they aren’t even sure they committed. By their accounts, God is always enacting his revenge or lessons onto this family leaving them stricken with grief and meekness. We watch as the fears of the parents seep into the minds of their children during one poignant scene in which the parents talk candidly about the troubles of their family.

While lamenting on their issues of failing crops and their missing child, Katherine weeps to William blaming the transgressions of the family on their sins of Thomasin’s inevitable maturing and the lost soul of their unbaptized infant. Eggert captures the scene with poignant tragedy in which a pan up through the ceiling reveals the children gathered around candlelight sheepishly listening to the judgement of their parents with fear and dejection. The scene iterates how the children’s own identities and worldviews are being shaped by their parent’s understanding of the world.


Eggert’s stunning visual cues creates a nefarious entity out of the woods in which the family lives outside of. Forbidden for reasons unknown to audiences, the woods becomes the home of supernatural events and the witch herself. It’s a place where only the children who enter it are enticed and sculpted by it. It’s a natural, animalistic chaotic place not meant for the refined, civilized family, not even for food as dictated by Katherine. Eggert’s filming techniques breathe life into the trees through slow zooms that melt into focused close-ups. As the tress seemingly take their breaths, I couldn’t help but hold mine in anticipation of what may come next. Mark Korven’s musical score is phenomenal finding inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s own score in The Shining. We hear the buzzing swells of sounds crescendoing into a chorus of voices and noise before hitting an unnerving peak, then swallowing in on itself blending separate scenes together and retreating back into stark silence. The Witch’s music, the lighting, the location, the tight close-ups, and moving shots all contribute to an air of mistrust and uncertainty.

The Witch has fantastical moments where the supernatural reigns supreme and is downright creepy. I argue that these otherworldly moments are visual manifestations of stories told in actual trials or through hearsay during the days of the witch trials. The film ends with an anecdote describing how the film’s inspiration was court documents and transcripts of witchcraft trials, as well as Eggert’s own childhood fascination with witches which is the reason he made this film. I think these elements makes for an important paradigm of the film’s supernatural elements.


Maybe the witch in the woods is real. Maybe the power of Lucifer is actually what consumes this devout family. Maybe God has sent a plague of Job-like proportions to test the family’s faith. Or maybe the witch-like apparitions and fears are all manifestations of a fear that haunt this family. Maybe The Witch is a coagulation of all these elements. Whatever it is,  Eggert’s use of folklore to tell his story is a raging emotional ride that reminds us of the real people who were tortured, killed, or banished for the thought of practicing witchcraft in a time when an understanding of physical and psychological states weren’t logical assessments in the minds of the masses.

SEE IT. And fall into the time period and tone of the film.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2016 9:55 PM

    Nice review! Now I really want to see it. I like suspense type horror over slasher movies.

    • March 5, 2016 10:25 PM

      Let me know what you think when you finally see it. I’m curious what others will think of it.

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