archer dialogue

The goat, of course, is a widely recognized symbol of Satan, and the presence of Black Philip is but one of many winking horror tropes that Eggers skillfully puts into play here: Between the bad-seed moppets and the ruined harvest, the mysterious disappearances and the frightening instances of animal misbehavior, “The Witch” is rife with intimations of inexplicable evil, of something deeply twisted and unnatural at work. At the same time, the film grippingly ratchets up the family tension on multiple fronts, to the point that it could almost be read as a straightforward portrait of emotional and psychological breakdown — exacerbated by the parents’ certainty that every setback is a test from the Lord. “Place thy faith in God,” William instructs his children more than once, though the implication is clear that unchecked piety, far from warding off demons and monsters, can merely wind up creating new ones in their place.

The result plays like a sort of cross between “The Crucible” and “The Shining” (which Eggers has cited as a key inspiration), with a smattering of “The Exorcist” for good measure. But in peering ahead to the Salem trials, “The Witch” also faintly echoes Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” another drama in which the forces of patriarchal repression and the cruel realities of agrarian life will exact a devastating future toll: We’re watching not just a private tragedy but a prequel to a larger-scale catastrophe, sowing seeds of suspicion, violence and fanatical thinking that will be passed down for generations to come.

At the same time, Eggers isn’t content with a strictly rational interpretation. He seems fascinated by the lore and iconography of the period (written accounts from which directly shaped the film’s archer-than-thou dialogue); by the terror and superstition that flourished in the wake of widespread starvation, illness and infant mortality; and above all by a grand tradition of supernatural horror filmmaking that has long preyed on those specific fears. If “The Witch” is ultimately a cautionary tale of Christian belief run amok, it also seeks to give the Devil his due — to illuminate a collective paranoid nightmare by blurring the line where grim reality ends and dark fantasy begins. (emphasis mine)

Yes, Virginia, the film really is that brilliant - and absolutely deserves nods to Miller, Kubrick, and Haneke.