Rating: 8.7/10 (Watch with no Distractions and full attention)
In 1630 New England, panic and despair envelops a farmer (Ralph Ineson), his wife (Kate Dickie) and four of their children when youngest son Samuel suddenly vanishes. The family blames Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty and love to one another.
The VVitch was written and directed by Robert Eggers (his directorial debut) and I honestly can’t wait to see his next film. The bar will be set almost unreachably high after this movie but considering he is shooting another horror/thriller with Willem Defoe in black and white slated to come out in 2019, I think he has a decent shot at repeat success.
An 8.7 is a great score that I will break down later but first, lets talk Black Phillip. Maybe the scariest horror movie Animal of my lifetime, Black Phillip has personality beyond what a goat should be capable of. “Black Fucking Phillip,” as I repeatedly yelled during my second viewing of this movie, completely stole the show. The horned, bearded, black goat that is the animal manifestation of the Devil offering up freedom to young girls in a puritanical culture. I really don’t understand how the Academy didn’t create an Oscar for “Best Goat in a Supporting Role” after that performance. In an age where CGI is everything, Black Phillip is truly terrifying and unpredictable in the way that only a flesh-and-blood animal can be. I recommend watching the thirty second Black Phillip specific trailer below. It gives me chills every time.
Because I have to reluctantly move away from that terrifying and awesome goat I will say that the casting in this movie seemed to be as near perfect as it is possible to be. William and Catherine (the parents) are the perfect religious zealots as they walk the line between religious and family devotion and insanity. Catherine specifically makes you feel uncomfortable from the moment she appears on the screen to the penultimate scene of the movie. Her bony features and cold attitude towards her children are arguably more frightening than the witch herself.
If I had to try and convince someone that didn’t particularly like horror movies to watch The VVitch, I would point out that the theme of the movie is more about intellectual independence and free will than jump scares or nightmare fodder (although it has some of those to be sure).
Thomasin’s role as the black sheep of an intensely religious family makes her both likable and relatable. I’m sure the final scene in which Thomasin embraces the Devil and joins the other dancing witches around the fire is found to be chilling for some but I found it to be a happy resolution. That final decision, turning away from the hard life and scornful family that she had known, was incredibly satisfying to watch. That satisfaction probably comes from the frustration of how unfairly she was treated by her batshit crazy mother and those treacherous twins. The twins especially… I have to give them credit because through most of the movie, while Black Phillip doesn’t speak, they provide a voice to his intentions which adds a whole new layer of creepy. There’s also something that churns my stomach when I see young children in a horror movie, especially when they end up being some of the most evil characters.
The one visual critique I have is that the witches themselves, especially the main one that the family interacts with, look really lame. It would almost have been better not to show the witch, except for that scene with Caleb in the woods, as the haggard old crone costume was more distracting than scary. It reminded me of a Guillermo Del Toro suit more than anything (don’t even get me started on The Shape of Water).
I’ve heard from a few other people that watched this movie that the puritan dialogue is too hard to understand but honestly, fuck them. The way the characters speak only adds to the tension in the movie because the complexity of their language means that you have to devote 100% of your attention to what’s happening on screen. I will say that the movie does lose points with me on how tense it is for the entire 90 minutes. It felt like a three hour movie purely because there is no pause in the stress you feel on behalf of the characters. I suppose when you kill off a baby in the first 20 minutes of the movie you have to keep the tensions high throughout, but my weak psyche could really have used a break. Consistently high tension does create a problem when considering the movie’s potential for multiple viewings especially because I’m not trying to have a heart-attack any time soon. I would absolutely recommend this movie to a friend, but I’m not sure I would watch it on my own, unless I had a defibrillator handy and didn’t feel like sleeping for a few weeks.