The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
Before we begin… For those precious few of you as curious as I as to why the title on the poster is written with two V’s rather than a W, the answer is easy as A,B,C.
It’s a printing press thing. In the period, if you ran out of W’s, you could just use two V’s. I saw a Jacobean witch pamphlet that had it, and I thought it looked great.
Robert Eggers, writer/director
0:02:46 A family in the States in the 1630’s (Scarlet Letter times) is exiled from the settlement because of the way the father (Ralph Ineson as William) preaches. The only thing worse than preaching is bad preaching.
0:5:18 The family’s young daughter, Thomasin (a very convincing Anya Taylor-Joy), confesses that by playing on the Sabbath she’s been living in sin. The contrary is true for me: living in sin is how I play on the Sabbath.
[N.B. It’s worth noting that Thomasin’s name includes the word ‘sin’, while her overly-pious father has instilled in his daughter the belief that sin is an integral part of her corrupt nature.]
Note: In an exclusive e-mail from director Robert Eggers, I learned ‘the family members‘ names come from looking at passenger lists on ships to the “New World,” lists of Puritan names, or coming across names in other texts.’ You can see the entire e-mail at the bottom of this synopsis.
0:06:12 This is the second time they’ve shown the forest with ominous music. Either something eerie will take place there, or the director (Robert Eggers) can’t see the forest for the trees.
0:07:31 While playing peekaboo with her baby brother, Sam, at the forest’s edge, an old gran somehow runs out of the forest over to where the siblings are, takes the baby, runs all the way back to the tree line carrying the baby in the space of three seconds whilst making absolutely no noise whatsoever. If there’s no witchcraft involved in this, then there’s a lot of WTF!?
0:09:12 In a secret lair by firelight and moonlight, the old nan kills the baby by cutting off his penis with a knife. She then grinds the newborn into paste with a mortar and pestle and rejuvenates herself with the concoction. Now you know where Botox comes from.
[N.B. Leoriza, reader and friend of WTF, makes the following note in the comments section concerning the killing of the baby: “Regarding the titular witch killing Sam in the beginning, I interpreted that scene as the witch using his body to make “flying potion”, which was supposedly made from animal/human fat and psychedelic drugs. Witches would supposedly take this mixture and rub it onto broomsticks, then use the broomsticks to apply the potion to certain mucous membranes – thus allowing witches to “fly” on their broomsticks. Forgive me for not providing a time stamp, but I think you see the hag rubbing something on what looks to be a broomstick after she ground up something hidden in the dark. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_ointment“]
0:10:06 With his distraught mother wailing in the background, Thomasin’s young brother (Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb) pauses to ogle his sleeping sister’s budding bosoms.
0:13:12 As their corn crop failed, William takes Caleb into the forbidden woods to trap food. The good news is, they won’t have to eat corn.
0:17:02 To add a little symbolism, Thomasin missteps and spills water (symbol of life) and then crushes a chick still in the egg (death of innocence). If I’m any good at reading signs, she’s headed for trouble.
0:17:26 William traded his wife’s silver cup to travelers in exchange for traps, and wants this kept secret from his wife. Religious fundamentalist or Meth addict?
0:18:12 Trying to shoot a rabbit, William nearly loses an eye when his musket misfires. He didn’t see that coming…and now he can’t.
0:18:20 More symbolism. While a black goat (symbol of the Devil) prances oddly, the two youngest of the brood (twins Mercy and Jonas, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) chant a song which sounds a lot like praise to Satan.
Black Phillip, Black Phillip
A crown grows out his head,
Black Phillip, Black Phillip
To nanny queen is wed.
Jump to the fence post,
Running in the stall.
Black Phillip, Black Phillip
King of all.
Black Phillip, Black Phillip
King of sky and land,
Black Phillip, Black Phillip
King of sea and sand.
We are ye servants,
We are ye men.
Black Phillip eats the lions
From the lions’ den.
Note: Eggers explained to me that Black Phillip’s name ‘doesn’t come from King Philip, but some English text as a rare nickname for the devil.’ [See the email at the bottom of this post.]
0:18:54 Meanwhile, standing next to a white, female goat (or ‘nanny’, like in the song above), Thomasin decides the symbolism is pushing her to the edge, so she goes to the forest’s treeline to meet it halfway.
0:19:28 William returns from hunting with Caleb and sees Black Phillip the goat acting up. The preacher tries to wrestle the goat [i.e. fight the devil] back into his pen and succeeds only after much effort. Talk about struggling with your demons.
0:20:54 Caleb lies to his mother and tells her that he and William were looking for apples in the valley but there were none. Apples, in this case, are symbols of Eden from the Bible, or paradise in this world.
I’ve seen no apple since we went from England.
In keeping with the symbols, Thomasin is saying she hasn’t seen a heaven on earth in their adopted country.
0:24:16 To tease her bloody obnoxious younger sister, Thomasin tells Mercy at night her naked spirit leaves her body and goes into the woods where it dances with the devil.
[I usually detest films with children, as they’re often shite actors, but many of the young cast in this one are turning in solid performances. #Respect]
0:29:38 When Thomasin leaves the dinner table to tend to the rowdy goats, she finds the same rabbit that nearly blinded her father in the stable. The rabbit often has a negative connotation of unbridled sexuality and lust, as well as a symbol of man falling to his doom, as rabbits fall to predators on rocky slopes [source]. I’d say the rabbit appeared to William as a sign he’ll fight the devil and lose, but appears in the goat pen as a sign of Thomasin’s sexual link to the devil. Her ‘devil may care’ attitude is coming true, because he probably does.
0:33:16 At night, the children overhear their parents saying that Thomasin will be taken to town to be a sort of maid. The mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), believing Sam is in Hell because he wasn’t baptised, wants to be well rid of her eldest daughter. Like a blind man on a Google search, I don’t see the link.
0:35:38 At daybreak, Caleb and Thomasin go to the forest to find food so that the family can eat and they don’t have to send Thomasin away. After they find an animal in the forest trap, Fowler the dog chases after the wily rabbit, while Burt the horse panics and throws Thomasin. I’m thrown as to why the family insists on giving their beasts people names.
Note: The director was kind enough to explain the animals’ names to me.
A small matchlock musket, used primarily for bird hunting, was called a “fowling piece,” and that is the kind of gun I wanted in the film. We couldn’t find a reproduction in our price range, so we had to use that large musket (though, I actually like that it is way too big for Caleb). Anyway, that gun put “fowling” in my head, and thought Fowler would be a good name for a dog, as if William named him that in the hope that he would be a good bird hunting dog.Burt just seemed like a good, sturdy and kind name for a work horse.
0:37:10 Lost in the forest, Caleb stumbles on a dying Fowler. Caleb’s gutted, but not as badly as Fowler.
0:38:34 WTF!? Caleb, getting more and more lost, decides to climb through very thick brambles that lead deeper into the woods!? At least now his soul is literally lost.
0:39:40 Caleb finds the witch’s hovel, where his pubescent proclivity will be his downfall. Even though the witch is wearing a red riding hood, the story is more similar to that of Hansel.
0:44:38 Later that night, while Thomasin is out in the rain tending to the white goat, Caleb turns up naked on the fence. The witch didn’t just take his virginity, she kidnapped it, abused it and then tortured it to death.
0:46:02 Mother and daughter bleed Caleb from the temple to drain the bad blood. One might say Caleb is taking a leak. Or, if one won’t say it, I will.
0:47:34 As Mercy and Jonas call Thomasin a witch, blood comes out of Flora’s (the nanny) teat as Thomasin milks her. Now you know where strawberry milk comes from.
0:51:43 Mercy continues singing her ditties of praise to the Goat King. I’m rather surprised her religious parents don’t make her stop. Seriously, if I had children who sang hymns of worship to animals, I’d tell them to go to Hell.
Black Phillip is a merry, merry king,
He rules the land with mirth.
Black Phillip has a mighty mighty sting,
He’ll knock thee to the earth.
Sing baa baa King Phillip the Black,
Sing baa baa baa baa baa.
Sing baa baa King Phillip the Black,
He’ll knock thee on thy back!
0:53:20 Caleb coughs up an apple and everyone thinks he’s bewitched. Christ, if they saw what I spit up on a Saturday morning, they’d think I was the antichrist.
[N.B. Here the signification of the apple changes. It is no longer a symbol of paradise on earth, but now represents a wicked witch poisoning an innocent. According to the director, this idea predates the Snow White legend.]
0:54:58 When William insists the family pray for Caleb, Jonas and Mercy cannot remember the words to the Lord’s Prayer and hold their stomachs in agony. This is what worshipping a goat will do for you.
0:55:18 Caleb chooses this moment to recite all the animal names he knows.
A toad. A cat. A crow. A raven. A great black dog. A wolf.
[N.B. These animals are also all commonly thought of as witches’ familiars.]
Spread over me the lap of thy love! […] My Lord, my love, kiss me with the kisses of thy mouth. How lovely art thou! […] My Lord, my love, my soul’s salvation, take me to thy lap!
After spouting off a lot of religious erotica, Jesus doesn’t come but Caleb seems to. After his paroxysm of pleasure, he’s dead tired without the ‘tired’.
1:01:48 After the twins fall into a trance, William takes Thomasin out and accuses her of being a witch because she’s the last one left standing. She points out that the twins spend all day praying to a bloody goat and this might be worse.
1:04:17 William locks the twins and Thomasin in the goat house, planning to take them to the plantation at dawn. I don’t see this trip happening, and I’m not even a psychic.
1:11:02 While sleepwalking, Katherine has a vision that her silver chalice has been returned and that Caleb is there in her room with the baby Sam. When she goes to breastfeed Sam, we are given a peek at the reality of the scene, which is a crow pecking at her chest. #nevermore
1:11:48 Credit to the old bird, the crow didn’t kill her.
1:12:32 William steps out of the house in the morning and sees the goat shed is wrecked, the goats are mangled and Thomasin is asleep amongst the wreckage. Reminds me of my flat on Sunday mornings.
1:12:46 While William’s surveying the scene, Black Phillip attacks him. Rather than fight back, William tosses the axe aside and says,
Corruption, thou art my father.
Black Phillip then rams him into the massive stack of wood William has been chopping throughout the film.
[N.B. The significance of William’s last words and the woodpile are explained at the bottom of this synopsis.]
1:13:44 Thomasin screams while the woodpile buries her father, then finds herself clutching the twins clothes, with no twins inside them.
1:15:14 Katherine accuses her daughter of killing the twins, seducing her father and brother, and being a witch. You, too, can see this scene in the front yard of any trailer park.
1:16:36 While defending herself against her mother’s onslaught, Thomasin grabs a corn husking blade and kills her mother. The corn dolls hanging on the string look strangely like a scoreboard.
1:20:38 After taking off the top layer of her bloody clothes, Thomasin falls asleep at the table. She awakens at night, goes into Black Phillip’s pen and begins speaking to him, trying to get him to open up. He’s reticent, and I’m sure was a quiet kid.
1:21:51 Black Phillip promises Thomasin the taste of butter, a nice dress, a journey around the world and a delicious life if she’ll take off her shift (like a slip that goes all the way up) and sign her name in his book. As for the promises, I think she sold herself short, though many lasses settle for less.
1:23:42 Thomasin walks naked in the woods and finds a coven of naked witches chanting and singing in the firelight. Reminds me of Deafheaven at Coachella.
This film was inspired by many folktales, fairytales and written accounts of historical witchcraft, including journals, diaries and court records.
Much of the dialogue comes directly from these period sources.
There is a lot of discussion online about the ending to The Witch, and while my voice may not be the loudest on the Internet, it is certainly the rightest. 😉
Was Thomasin always a witch?
No. To begin with, Robert Eggers has this to say about that theory.
No offense, if that [Thomasin was always a witch] was anyone’s reading, but for people who think Thomasin was evil all along: “Once upon a time there was a story of a witch”—that’s the movie, and that’s not a very interesting story. So I will say that much.
Add to that the scene toward the beginning [18:54] where she goes to the forest’s edge but does not enter (she’s curious but not ready to go all the way) and the end scene where she talks to Black Phillip [1:20:38] not knowing if he’ll answer her (she’s never had any contact with him as the devil before, so she doesn’t know if he can really talk or not) and it’s clear she’s innocent up until the end.
That said, the twins were evil throughout the entire film. Proof of that is given in
- the songs they chant to the devil
- the way Thomasin knows the they talk to Black Phillip (‘Speakest to me as thou speakest to Jonas and Mercy’ [1:20:09]),
- the wands the brats brandish throughout the movie
- the fact that they are unable to recite the Lord’s Prayer but Thomasin is [54:58]
So what happens to the twins?
They are spirited away at night by a flying witch. This according to the script, to the damage to the goat pen [see image below] the morning after the twins disappear, and the dialogue.
Katherine: Where are they!?
Thomasin: I know not what I saw!
Katherine: Where are they!?
Thomasin: She came from the sky–
What in the hell did William mean when he said, “Corruption, thou art my father!” when Black Phillip killed him?
You first have to realise that the firewood in this film, especially the fervor with which William chops it, is symbolic of prayer and praying. This is clear in the scene [46:38] where William leaves the house in the middle of the night to cut wood after Caleb’s naked body is discovered on the fence of the goat pen and illness ensues. William cannot control the events in his life, so he resorts to the only thing he can control: prayer / chopping wood. Thomasin herself makes this observation when arguing with her father by saying [at 1:00:54],
Thou cannot bring the crops to yield. Thou cannot hunt. … Thou canst do nothing save cut wood.
He can do nothing but pray and cut wood, yet both of these are futile because he amasses a vast pile of split wood that does him no good, just as the pleas he is constantly offering to God have no effect in his life. Those prayers are just as useless as the pile of wood that’s destroyed when Black Phillip butts William into it. William finally realises all of the time he has wasted in cutting wood / praying when, just before Black Phillip attacks him, he takes the axe (his prayers) and considers attacking Black Phillip (the Devil) with it, but then he casts the tool aside because he knows this is a battle he cannot win.
When he says, “Corruption, though art my father!”, he’s acknowledging that he was corrupted by his beliefs, by his God. ‘God’ was his father, but God was replaced by the corruption he experienced when he left the society of his fellow man. William was corrupted by religion, because religion forced him to be exiled, and the exile proved to be his undoing. The film begins with his forsaking humans, and ends with his being punished for it.
Here’s something that’s really going to bake your noodle.
What if the entire film was a bad drug trip the family experienced? Script writer / director Robert Eggers mentions in one interview,
[T]here are clues about different interpretations. So, for example, the rot on the corn is ergot, which is a hallucinogenic fungus, so if you wanted to take that route, you could. It’s not necessarily my route, but there are multiple ways in.
Thinking about the film as a family’s mass hysteria due to hallucinations is a trip!
- WTF!?’s: 3 cursed ones
- When to Follow: When you feel like a film that’ll work to scare you, rather than taking the gory way out. This is a horror movie you’ll be proud to introduce your date to.
- Where’s This Found: There seems to be a backlash against The VVitch and more’s the pity because that trolling would be put to better use against Creed or 10 Cloverfield Lane. Yes, it’s true, The VVitch is not a slasher film and so many juveniles out there don’t understand a film doesn’t need to have gore to be a horror film. While The VVitch doesn’t resort to cats jumping out from closets to startle you, it creates an atmospheric style and a heavy sense of dread that will reach deeper and feel creepier than any prepackaged mainstream Hollywood scream-fest. The Witch will give you better quality nightmares than any horror film in recent memory. Out of a possible 10, I have 8 F’s to give.
- What To Feedback:
Update: I’ve added other options (‘I actually laughed out loud at the end. Silly devil crap!’ and ‘It was intriguing until the end. Then stupid.’) as these were added by readers as ‘other’ in the comments.
[N.B. I used the very informative Slate interview with Robert Eggers as a research tool for this review]
My exclusive exchange with Robert Eggers (director)
I had a theory behind the animals’ names, which was that Fowler (the dog) came from Samuel P. Fowler, author of Salem Witchcraft; Comprising More Wonders of the Invisible World (the book talks about the first two Salem witch trials) and that Burt (the horse) was named after Ann (Holland) Bassett Burt, one of the first women in Salem (in 1669) to be accused of witchcraft.
I sent an email to Mr. Eggers with my theory, and was amazed that his reply was not just a simple affirmation / negation, but was a long explanation of the animal names and all the other characters’ names! It was incredibly generous of him to take so much time on his response, which I’ll include here.
Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos
Prints suitable for reposting!
WTF!? did they say?
WTF!? do you meme?
What to Follow Up
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