I’m not a gambling man, nor am I one to give into peer pressure, but I am a good friend and a movie lover. So last week while I was hanging out with my best friend who I hadn’t seen in about two months he suggested that we go to the theater to see The Witch. I told him I’d rather not because I’d seen nothing in the previews to convince me that the movie was worth my time or money, but he was convinced it was going to be great, especially since the legendary Mr. Stephen King even tweeted a testimonial to how disturbing the movie was, stating the film “scared the hell out of [him]” and it was “a real movie, tense and thought-provoking as well as visceral”. So even though I remained skeptical, I compromised and agreed to give the film a shot. After all, Stephen King gave his stamp of approval and the film even won an award at the Sundance Film Festival.
The setting is New England, 1630. A devout Christian family of seven lives comfortably on their farm in the middle of nowhere. One day, while the eldest daughter, Thomasin, plays a game of peekaboo with her newborn brother, the baby suddenly vanishes, apparently abducted by a figure who vanishes into the woods. The mother, Catherine, grieves over the loss of her baby the most, while the father, William, attempts to keep the family going maintaining the farm and hunting as needed.
Eventually the crops begin to fail, so William along with his eldest son Caleb attempt to hunt for food for the family and anything they could trade as well. Later on, the two impish twins of the family, who converse with one of the goats on the family’s farm, attempt to tease Thomasin, who then tells them that she is a witch and will hex them if they don’t behave. One night the children all overhear their parents complaining of their hardship, as Catherine throws the loss of her child in William’s face along with his inability to provide for his family. Feeling he can save their situation, Caleb sets out into the woods on his own to collect game to trade in order to save the family, with Thomasin tagging along. After their horse gets spooked by something and their dog runs off, the siblings become separated and Thomasin returns home alone, while Caleb encounters a strange woman in the forest. When William learns his oldest son is missing he goes looking for him, but it is not until a day or so later that Thomasin discovers Caleb back on the farm, naked and bewitched. The family assembles to watch and pray over Caleb, who soon dies after vomiting a bloody apple and convulsing violently. Understanding he was hexed, the twins begin casting blame on Thomasin, who in her own defense tells her parents about the twins’ talks with the goat they call Black Phillip. Unsure who is associating with the devil, William traps his remaining children in the barn with the goats, where the witch comes later in the night to kidnap the twins and kill all the goats except Black Phillip, and leaving Thomasin.
When her father finds her alone in the barn, surrounded by dead livestock he is convinced she is the evil one, but Black Phillip impales William with his horns, killing him. When Catherine comes out to find Thomasin with her dead father’s body she goes mad and attacks her daughter, forcing Thomasin to kill her own mother in self-defense. In the end, Thomasin, now alone and desperate, hears something summoning her and she finds the goat Black Phillip who reveals that he is in fact the Devil and offers her to join him. After she accepts the ritual, Thomasin goes into the forest where she finds a coven of witches and the movie ends with them all levitating together.
After the screen faded to black and the credits started rolling, my friend looked at me and stated he planned to write Stephen King and the movie’s director, Robert Egger, an angry letter. I just told my friend that he owed me $10 for the price of my own ticket. Needless to say I was shocked to see that the film received a 7.5 out of 10 on IMDb. Everyone in the theater seemed as unimpressed as we were and there were a few scenes people actually laughed out loud at, but none that anyone noticeably jumped or gasped at, which are decent indicators for successful moments in horror to me. The most disturbing parts of the movie were probably the murder of the newborn and the view of the naked old woman playing the witch. The funniest part was definitely seeing Catherine breastfeed a crow, apparently hallucinating, believing it is her baby returned to her. In my honest opinion, the film wasn’t completely terrible for a small-budget movie, but it just wasn’t deserving of the hype. The transition of scenes and the story made it seem like the film would have been better suited as a play, but even if the presentation was given in another form, I would have still rather just paid the Redbox price for it.