“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
The Witch is an American–Canadian horror film written and directional debut of Robert Eggers. The plot follows a Puritan family encountering forces of evil in the woods beyond their New England farm, forces that may be either real or imagined.
The Witch opens in the 1630 with a trial against a man named William (Ralph Ineson); he belongs to a Puritan plantation in New England and is being judged for the crime of “prideful conceit”. His punishment is that he and his family – daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) and pregnant wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) – are banished from the plantation and sent to live in the wilderness. They build a farm on the edge of a large forest, where Katherine gives birth to Samuel, her fifth child.
One day, while Thomasin plays peekaboo with Samuel, the baby vanishes. A witch (Bathsheba Garnett) living in the woods is revealed to have kidnapped him, who then kills him, and uses his blood and fat to make a flying ointment which she rubs all over herself.
Katherine is devastated by Samuel’s disappearance and spends her days crying and praying. While Caleb and his father are hunting in the forest, the boy confronts him about the fate of his unbaptized brother’s soul. William, in turn, confides to his son that he traded Katherine’s prized silver cup for hunting supplies. Back on the farm, the twins play with the family’s black goat, Black Phillip, whom they claim speaks to them. They also sing strange songs about Black Phillip, which makes you wonder who they learnt them from.
Later, while Thomasin and Caleb are at the brook, little Mercy sneaks up on them pretending to be a witch. Mercy then blames Thomasin for letting the witch take Samuel. Thomasin scares Mercy by claiming that she’s the Witch of the Wood. That night, Katherine blames Thomasin for the disappearances of her silver cup and, hintingly, Samuel.
The next morning, Caleb and Thomasin go hunting in the forest behind their family’s back. Their dog gives chase to a hare and Caleb follows. The commotion causes Thomasin’s horse to throw her, knocking her unconscious. After getting lost, Caleb finds their dog disembowelled. Wandering further into the woods, he stumbles on a house inhabited by a seemingly young woman in a crimson cloak and is lured into her clawing embrace. Thomasin awakens and finds her way back to the family farm, guided by her father’s calls. Katherine questions Thomasin why they went into the woods. Seeing Katherine’s rage, William admits that he was the one who stole her silver cup.
Caleb returns to the farm in the rainy night, albeit naked and delirious from an unknown illness. Katherine suggests Caleb’s mysterious ailment is the result of witchcraft.
Who or what is causing this to happen? Is their unfortunate Job-like plight the work of a witch? And could it really be one of their own? You’ll have to watch the film to find out because the climax is really something.
The Witch is a bleak, tense and unrelenting film, with disturbing imagery and an ominous tone. From the very first moment they leave the plantation you can feel the tension beginning to build. It has an amazing all round cast, which make you believe in their family ties. As the film continues on accusations arise and different characters are suspected of dealing with the devil or the witch, herself. Until the very end even I wasn’t sure what was happening exactly, it could very well be Thomasin or the twins, or a hallucination altogether. Although we do see glimpses of the witch of the wood so that makes you believe it has to be more than a mere illusion. The witch being shown sparingly was my favourite part; I do believe that the presence of evil itself should be frightening enough without it being shoved down your throat and overexposed, which is exactly how the movie played it. We never saw more than necessary. The Witch is a period piece set in the 17th century, so naturally everyone speaks Old English, but that shouldn’t put you off. I understood every single character perfectly fine and when in doubt there are always subtitles. Now I have to mention my other favourite part and the aspect that makes this film: the score. The soundtrack is perfectly eerie, helping to set the tone of this psychologically thrilling ride. Lastly, the cinematography was haunting, leaving certain scenes forever burned into my memory (the mother and the crow). I do believe that more movies should be set in the same time period, which is 62 years before the “Salem Witch Trials”. It was a time when witch hysteria had first begun and I really think that period and witches in general are underused.