We have built houses, bridges and caves to shelter our soft bodies from nature’s unforgiving nastiness. Whereas a bad farmer dies of starvation but a good farmer sells what he cannot eat.
Robert Eggers’ The Witch is as much about men and their faith, as it is about the never ending struggle of men in Nature.
A family of six, stuck in the strictest of religious dogma and devoid of a plan and a means, meet their demise quickly and unequivocally. The family is not cursed or unfortunate, but driven to madness by its own unwilligness to bend to the rules of a harsh reality. That a Witch or the possibility of one comes into the picture is only a catalist to their unavoidable self-destruction, and of their detachment to natural and practical ways of living. Instead of problem solving, they turn against each other, and let doubt and fear supercede the love they once had in their suffering hearts.
The Witch is frightening in that it shows how religious fanaticism when put to the test can actually do the opposite of fostering love and empathy. The Witch is frightening because we see the disintegration of a family and their willingness to murder and torture. The Witch is scary because there is a spectre, deep in the woods, grown from the very ground that makes corn turn black, that seeks to divide this family by using what binds them together: their belief in a higher power.
It is apt, therefore, that the film should take place in colonial America, where a Witch was as real as the sun and the river and the rain. Where witches were believed to live among us and away from civilization, yet close enough to haunt us in the dark of night, preying on vulnerability.
The film is beautiful in that it hones on a message, a story and a cinematic vocubulary, and they all work in unison to create a terrifying picture of old English and old country. The Witch is easily one of the best “horror” films I have ever seen, but it is not for everyone. It is disturbing, unambiguously antireligion, spoken in Old English, and void of the sort of cheap scares and overwhelming violence that is more likely to provoke laughter than fear. Instead, it is an old nightmare. A window to a maccabre past that we rather forget, where witches were real and God was as silent as he always has been.