The episode of Deconstructing… covering The Witch was Written, Edited, and Narrated by Kier Gomes, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
Every family has a black sheep. The one person who (for better or worse) feels different from everyone else. Maybe you like movies that your siblings and parents don’t enjoy, or maybe you’re more into the arts where the rest of your family are into sports or academics, or maybe you’re a blood-marked hellion who’s destined to wind up streaking through the forest with a coven of flying witches- and that’s just not your family’s idea of a good time. We’ll definitely talk more about that last one, but the point I’m making is that each of us has at some point in our lives felt like an unwelcome outsider who wants to simultaneously fit in and stand out. Such is the case for Thomasin, the oldest of 5 kids in 1600s New England where her and her family have just been banished from their community for holding different beliefs than their neighbors. Today’s movie is a haunting slow burn tale of estrangement and exile which (much like the film’s antagonist) takes on many forms throughout the story. In today’s episode we’re going to breakdown the success and important impact of 2015’s The Witch (watch it HERE) while also diving deep into what this movie can tell us about finding our place in a world that otherwise doesn’t accept us. It’s a dark story, to be sure. But I believe it’s also a very personal story to the filmmaker behind it which makes for an interesting sense of relief and liberation by the time the credits roll. For those looking for an excess of gore and flashy kills, you may soon find yourself wandering beyond the slice and dice of slasher cinema and instead being taken on a more cerebral and psychological journey through the mind of Robert Eggars in his first directorial outing- The Witch. I’m Kier with JoBlo Horror, and you’re watching Deconstructing.
2015’s The Witch is a slow burn paranormal horror film directed by Robbert Eggars, and starring Anya Taylor Joy, and the always exceptional Ralph Ineson and of course this movie was the one that really shot A24 from another independent arthouse studio, to the high-brow production company that is now responsible for some of the genre’s most acclaimed fare. The movie follows Thomasin (Joy), as the teenage daughter of William and Katherine- a recently exiled family who was forced to build their own farm away from their community after a religious dispute. When the family starts their new life, Thomasin and her siblings begin experiencing what they believe to be encounters with a witch who resides in the woods. Along the way we’re in for some disturbing material as Thomasin’s family begin to suspect her of being a witch herself based on her rebellious and free-spirited behavior.
This movie can be analyzed in any number of ways, but today we’re going to break it down using our 4 key categories: First, we’ll talk about the film’s origin and how it got from an idea to production. Then, we’ll get into the movie’s legacy- which should be interesting seeing as this movie really set the A24 fire ablaze for the coming years. After that we’ll lighten up with some trivia where I will give you some fun facts about the film. And we’ll end it all by talking about the film’s X-factor where I search for the one thing that takes this from an acceptable paranormal haunt to a classic horror film in its own right.
So, if you’re ready than say your prayers, and don’t forget to like and subscribe, and let’s hit play on The Witch.
Now, in order for me to really breakdown why this movie works- I need to first talk about its writer and director, Robert Eggars. Eggars was born in New York but mostly raised in New Hampshire, which he’s gone on record saying is a huge inspiration for his work in writing The Witch. Eggars was born to a single mother who later married a college professor. Eggars has stated that The Witch is a personal story to him and if you ask me, it shows. The filmmaker attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City where he found his home- now being a New York City resident. All of this seems important to the movie in my opinion. Eggars states he had a fear of witches growing up and wanted to center his story around that fear- and Thomasin feeling like an outsider in her family also seems to be a theme that Eggars intentionally emphasizes in the writing. Not to mention, the movie’s conclusion could simply be an allegory for Eggars embracing the arts and his new life among likeminded artists and feeling a sense of emancipation from the life of academia he was raised in by his parents. In any case, the movie’s original treatments that Eggars pursued making were all declined multiple times for being “too weird” and “too obscure” which you can imagine must’ve been true considering that the less weird and obscure version we got was STILL quite weird… and obscure.
Eggars stated about making the film: “If I’m going to make a genre film, it has to be personal and it has to be good.”
When he finally was able to secure funding for the movie, Eggars worked exhaustively with his production crew as well as local museums to make sure that the Puritan era of 1600’s New England was displayed as accurately as possible. Everything from the wardrobe, the set design, the cutlery and even the patterns found on some of textiles were recreations of historically accurate pieces and designs. Even the characters’ unique accents were carefully crafted to match a newly settled colonial family. Eggars even shot the film in as primitive a way as possible by only using natural sunlight and candlelight to light the scenes, as well as a soundtrack that evokes musical instruments of the times. The movie was given a budget of only $4 Million which is very small, but easily manageable for such an intimate story.
Anya Tylor Joy recalled working on the film and stated quote: “Everything from the costumes to the actual set- it was all so real. Things like the costume, and the way we’re speaking, it just so of the time. And so, it transported us- and I feel like if it transports the actors and we really believe and we’re into this “playing pretend” that hopefully it takes the audience with it.”
The movie was released in theaters in February of 2016 and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Witch was originally released at Sundance Film Festival in January of 2015, but upon being screened for audiences at the festival, A24 and DirecTV purchased the film’s distribution rights and scheduled its theatrical release for a year later. At the time, A24 was specializing in the distribution of low budget films and their catalogue prior to this movie was very limited. They’d worked with projects like Spring Breakers and Room being among their most notable at the time. However, securing the rights to the US distribution of The Witch not only led to a fruitful relationship with Eggars on his previous films, but also launched the now iconic status of A24 and their knack for producing hit indie fare like Ti West’s X and Pearl, as well as Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar. The real legacy of this movie is the amount of opportunity it created for other filmmakers with unique ideas and visions for their film and that goes well beyond the horror genre. A24 has produced comedy films like Funny Pages, and romantic dramas like Past Lives, and all these movies may owe a small piece of their success to Eggars’ feature debut. So, when your film buff friend wears his A24 Dad hat to your next function, make sure you mention The Witch. See if they respect the OG as much as they should.
This is a movie that was never meant to have a sequel or kick off a franchise- although Eggars proceeding films were also similar in theme to this film to create an interesting catalogue of increasingly mind-bending films. Hell, if it wasn’t for this movie- we may have never gotten The Lighthouse or The Northman, which honestly, I don’t think I could live without.
But the lasting impact that this movie has made comes from the bold and confident direction of this first-time filmmaker. Eggars didn’t make this movie like a rookie. He studied. He went deep in order to deliver something truly interesting that visually told his story. This movie is often praised for its ability to pack the entire story into a short runtime with minimal exposition. The movie tells you what it’s about and what you need to know in every frame- and it trusts the audience to figure it out without having to be told too much. THAT is confident filmmaking. There’s a picture language to this movie that provides a mood, and an unfolding mystery within its images. Simply, this movie’s legacy is the trust that Hollywood gained for Robert Eggars and the entire A24 organization off this one movie. Which by the way made over 10 times its original budget at the box office.
Now here’s an interesting pallet cleanser before we get deep and talk about the finer details of this movie. Did you know that the spelling of the movie “The VVitch” is spelled with 2 V’s instead of a W because that’s how the word “witch” was commonly spelled in the 17th century? As it turns out, the letter “w” was not very common in those days. I still have a habit of jokingly referring to this movie as “the v vitch” which either annoys or confuses just about everyone. Am I alone in that? Comment below if you do it too.
And before we move on, let’s see if you can answer this question:
Which animal appears multiple times in the movie and was considered in the 17th century a sign that a witch is nearby?
- A hare or rabbit
- Weed Rats
Comment your answers down below!
Is it that time already? Because truthfully, I’m not prepared to be at this point in the video. It’s not that I think this movie is particularly better than any of the other movies we’ve broken down, and it’s not that I can’t find a good aspect to this movie to praise above the rest. It’s more that this movie means a lot to me. I mentioned before that every family has a black sheep. And I stand by that- that isn’t always a bad thing. See, The Witch focuses mostly on the story from Thomasin’s perspective. She is well aware that she’s the odd one out in her family and it gets made increasingly clearer throughout the movie that she is different from them. Her religious beliefs, her behavior, her idea of a joke- all different. She’s like Matilda and the Wormwoods in that she feels almost foreign to her own family, yet doesn’t necessarily mind being the black sheep, but in fact embraces it. Also, if the metaphor isn’t clear enough, there is a literal Black Sheep in the film and it’s evil so, ya know. Case in point.
I also kind of want to rant about how much I appreciated the tension packed into every shot of this movie. From the cinematography by Jarin Blaschke that pulls your gaze towards the darkness, to the sinister yet somber voice of William, to the disturbing final scene where Thomasin is forced to kill her own mother before joining her new family in the most cinematic witchcraft ritual imaginable, and even the lasting hole in my stomach from the deaths of Thomasin’s siblings. It’s all there, and it’s all to say one thing. We are the black sheep.
But what I REALLY love about this theme, is how much it actually says about Thomasin. See, her family wants to send her away to serve another family because they think Thomasin is too different and doesn’t have anything in common with them. Yet the family themselves were banished from their own community for the very same reason. The family was the black sheep of the community. Thomasin was always going to rebel. She was always going to find her own way. She didn’t hate her family for hating her- despite killing potentially all of them- but instead she honored them the only way she could- She found her own slice of the world where she was free to be herself. And if there’s ONE THING that stands out as the special sauce of this movie, it’s that Eggars was bold enough to find his own path, telling his own story, in his own way- and he did it on the very first try.
A couple of the previous episodes of Deconstructing… can be seen below,. To see more episodes, and to check out our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-witch-deconstructing/