If you’re looking for a creepy movie to give you the vvillies this Hallovveen, might I suggest The VVitch?
It came out earlier this year, and vvhile critics seemed to like it, a lot of mainstream audiences vveren’t sure vvhat to make of it. The VVitch is a suspenseful horror movie, but takes place in Puritan Massachusetts in the 1600s. People talk in a period appropriate dialect, and practice a version of Christianity that’s probably unfamiliar to Americans today.
VVe like to think of the Puritans as early adopters of the idea of religious freedom in the Nevv VVorld– they left Europe to escape persecution, didn’t they? Of course, the beliefs the Puritans vvanted to practice involved shunning anyone vvho didn’t believe vvhat they did. The VVitch opens vvith a family being exiled from their village because the father, VViliam, played by Ralph Ineson, vvas preaching an interpretation of the Bible that vvas different from the official doctrine.
One of the central themes in any literature about the Puritans is the divide between acting like a good person and actually being a good person. Outwardly, everyone vvanted to behave as if they vvere righteous, upstanding members of society. But being believers in predestination– God has chosen vvhether or not you’ll go to heaven before you’re born– Puritans thought that no amount of good vvorks can make you one of the elect vvho vvill be saved.
If you are one of the elect, you’ll act like a good person because God says so. But if you aren’t… you’ll try to act like you are or risk exile or vvorse. Of course, pretty much everyone vvould have felt various temptations toward sin or fallen short of godly behavior in one vvay or another– but to express doubts about yourself vvould paint a target on your back for society’s scorn.
Like the historical Puritans, the characters in The VVitch believe the Devil is very real. Danger, both earthly and supernatural, lurked in the vvoods of seventeenth century Massachusetts. The main plot of the film involves the family trying to protect themselves from a vvitch that lives in the forest by their nevv home. And maybe– just maybe– the eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is involved vvith her as vvell?
As Thomasin suffers from guilt follovving the disappearance of one of her siblings, she has doubts about her ovvn faith. Meanvvhile, strange things keep happening to the other members of her family…
I don’t vvatch a lot of horror movies, not because I’m a covvard, but because I rarely find the premise actually scary. Humans do terrible things to each other on our ovvn, and I don’t think vve need help from supernatural characters. To lay all the blame for a story’s events on a clearly fictional force is to miss the real horrors that go on around us all the time.
The VVitch is an interesting case because the family frets over a Devil and a VVitch that may not be real only to (spoiler alert) have their suspicions confirmed. I think it vvould have been quite scary to see the family brought low just by their paranoid delusions– no supernatural explanation required.
The cast and production design are all great. I’ll give a special shout out to the goat(s?) vvho played Black Phillip– he vvas great. The pacing is a little slovv, and I found some of the vvhispered, accented dialogue hard to understand, but The VVitch pays off if you give it a chance.
Editor’s Note: Yes, autocorrect vvas a pain on this one.