The Witch: A New England Folk-Tale

The Witch (a short study)

2016 ‧ Horror ‧ 1h 33m ‧ dir. Robert Eggers

  The Witch  - Parts and Labor, Rooks Nest Entertainment, RT Features

The Witch - Parts and Labor, Rooks Nest Entertainment, RT Features

The Horror of Adolescence - Charlotte Haley (FR)

It is rare to find a film that integrates terror - as Ann Radcliffe described it, ‘awful apprehension’ - with the lunch-disturbing characteristics of horror. Robert Eggers’ directorial debut attempts admirably to do just this, combining the dread of an innocent young woman’s condemnation with the kind of reserved gore that features only in a confident Gothic narrative.

The story revolves around a deeply devout family in 17th Century New England, struggling to prosper on their isolated farmland. These newfound tribulations for the family are exacerbated by the disappearance of their youngest child, Sam, while in the care of his older sister, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Though the audience has the privilege of seeing the illustrious witch, stealing away through the forest with the child in a harrowing shot that evokes images of an original Grimm’s fairytale, the family latch onto the emotions of suspicion and paranoia in an attempt to cope with their grief. What follows is not so much a horror film, as an exposé of the horrific damage of puritanical, extremist religion - perhaps more terrifying because of Eggers’ loyalty to historical testimonies. What point is there, then, in incorporating gore? Eggers’ expert use of blood and bodily fluids aid the coming-of-age narrative that lies comfortably beneath the supernatural elements of the film, highlighting the biological and sexual development of Thomasin and her brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw). The understanding of these pubescent struggles that the film demonstrates gives a sympathetic picture of Thomasin’s pain, controlled by a faith and culture that provides her with few options outside of servitude and submission. Incorporating historical evidence with biblical symbolism, Eggers emphasises the indivisibility of religion, superstition and law in the 1630s. This results in a film that intelligently observes the fear of a ‘Liberated Woman’ by both religious and patriarchal societies, perpetuating the myth of the witch. Though I am careful to attribute a feminist sympathy to Eggers - unaware, as I am, of his politics - this film certainly shows an understanding of the adolescent female that goes beyond the standard horror film.

 

Charlotte Haley - 2016 Film Representative @ FAFF