Robert Eggers has made a massive directorial debut with this chilling supernatural-psychological horror film.
This New-England style folk-tale follows a family as it is torn apart by possession, betrayal and of course, witchcraft. It is superbly made, as equally chilling in aesthetics and theme as in subject-matter, however, this film ultimately works on as many levels as it fails.
Some critics have argued that it works better as a psychological horror than a supernatural thriller. I, however, feel it works well in its use of uncanny, where everything is wrong, in some way or another, and one never fully knows what is the cause of such unrest until the climactic reveal.
I do still feel that the film could have pushed harder on the titular Witch who is reduced to only a few on-screen occurrences and possibly never even the true threat to the protagonists.
According to Eggers, the devil as evinced through the Goat, Black Philip, was initially supposed to be more involved in the film with much more onscreen presence. However, a lack in the animal’s training reduced the Goat’s on-screen time. Eggers claims he is still pleased with the outcome of the film despite this, which I agree with, in that it certainly made for a thrilling climactic reveal. But again, I do see it as a bit of a failing in the film as well, in that after learning Black Philip’s true nature, the constant references to the rabbits and the eerie presence of nature itself, can come across as a tacked on post-thought.
Many questions are left unanswered: was there only one Witch? Or were there many? Why was the family kicked out of the commune at the beginning? What was with the rabbits, anyways?
And what does this film say about women, really? The satanic looks damn enticing compared to the squalid living conditions of their farm. And all only at the cost of a simple baby. But what is this film really saying about women, the divine feminine or even female community? That the only way of getting out of arranged marriages or being literally sold to another family, is through allegiance to Satan and murdering a baby or two to bathe in their blood and live forever?
I know I’m being a bit over-dramatic, but it is still an example of the gendered nature of horror films – in that the role of the female is somehow intrinsically dark, and ominous. That the anxieties of women can manifest themselves into very real, very dangerous entities like ghosts, demons and of course, witches. It’s a fear perpetrated from the puritan age and really very little has changed from then to now.