The children were warned by their father and mother not to go wandering in the woods. It’s a foreboding and dark wood that stretches for miles. It’s easy to get lost and there’s something else…something, or someone, that lives out there. Someone with dark supernatural powers and that is evil. She’s a cunning old hag and she preys upon children because they are the most vulnerable. She’s not just a folktale or a children’s song, she is very real and very terrifying. She will tear this Christian family apart until they have gone insane, then force them to question their faith and vow loyalty to Satan, or perish at their own hands. She is The VVitch.
William (Ralph Ineson) is a prideful man and his arrogance causes him and his family to be banished from a community and forced to live outside in the wilderness. The family’s lives are peaceful and pleasant, spent working the land and trading with Indians. Their faith is strong and their love for God is what brings them good fortune and prosperity. But then misfortune looms overhead, like a dark cloud that haunts the family and their homestead, it creeps in and infiltrates, beginning from the inside and working its way out. The horror starts when the family’s newborn baby is stolen out from under the eyes of their eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). It could’ve been a wolf that snatched up the baby, but Thomasin suspects that it was something else. She is too afraid to say the word or call it by its real name. The witch grinds up the baby and spreads its entrails over her body, putting a curse upon the family and their land. Already the dark seed is planted and the family senses an omnipresence invading, but believes that their faith will keep them safe.
As her next victim, the witch fixates her gaze upon their son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), a boy who’s reached the early stages of puberty and whose mind is curious of those delightful delicacies that the world of lust and sin has to offer. He’s easily seduced by a younger and more beautiful witch in the woods, then returns to his family, stripped bare of his clothing, as a child possessed by the devil and mocking the word of God with manic laughter. It’s a devote Christian family’s worst nightmare. Evil infiltrates the family and wreaks havoc upon the man and woman in such a way that it defies their love and faith for God. Killing the family would be too easy, the witch would rather the family renounce their faith and accept the word of the devil. She wants to see them go insane, then beguile their eldest daughter when she is alone and most vulnerable and invite her to join the world of witchcraft and Satan. It’s a clever and wicked plan executed by the witch, but devised by her devil counterpart: a horned goat that lives among the family’s livestock, called Black Phillip.
The real horror of The VVitch is not a wicked old hag that lives in the woods, but a family that loses its dynamic and wholeness. They are all victims of witchcraft and they eventually turn on one another, however Thomalsin is the real victim. Black Phillip has his eyes on her. When she is in danger of being attacked by her father, Black Phillip attacks and kills William, sparing Thomalsin of harm. There is a spark of darkness in Thomalsin, manifested through guilt and regret, and she knows it. She feels the pull towards the darkness, all she needs is a little nudge from the dark lord. He asks, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” and Thomalsin accepts.
What a twisted mind Robert Eggers, the writer and director of The VVitch, must have. His previous directorial credits include two short films, The Tell-Tale Heart (based from an Edgar-Allen Poe short story) and Hansel and Gretal (based from the classic Grimm fairy tale). I imagine Eggers to be a gothic man, who lives in a dark cavernous dwelling, haunted by morbid thoughts and interested in the deviant subtleties of the mind and behavior of human beings. Or he’s just some dude from New Hampshire with a talent for making great films. Most of Eggers’ credits are as a production designer for short and feature films and I suspect that many of the production design and costumes in The VVitch were created by Eggers himself, with a tremendous amount of attention paid to period detail. In fact, the entire film experience is very detailed. Because of its precise directing, cinematography, acting, and musical score, The VVitch will transport you back to the New England of the 1630’s, and the film’s bleak tonality will creep beneath your skin so that you will fear that bitch of an old hag that lives in the woods…The VVitch.