WTF: The Witch (2015)

The Witch 12 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

The Witch 01 poster (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

Spoiler Alert:

I shall be invoking The Witch, conjuring its images and investigating its magic to divine if its spell is binding or broken. So read on only if you’ve already seen The Witch, or don’t plan to.

Watch THE VVITCH here

The Witch 02 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
It would seem the film *does* have a prayer

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

0:02:10

The Witch 03 SC Puritan Mixer (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
A Puritan mixer

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.

The Witch 05 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Thomasin looks up to her father

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.

The Witch 04 SC Are you sure you're a Rabbi (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
“Wait, are you sure you’re a Rabbi?”

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. 

The Witch 06 SC First downblouse (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Caleb’s original sin

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.

[N.B. According to the director, the corn crop failed because of the ergot fungus, which has a chemical makeup similar to that of LSD.]

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.

The Witch 07 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
She looks ready for bed, or like she’s wearing one

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.

The Witch 08 GIF That kid can dance (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
That kid can dance

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.

The Witch 09 SC Satanism gets her goat (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Satanism gets her goat

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.

The Witch 10 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Mum and dad invent The Wave

0:23:14

I’ve seen no apple since we went from England.

Thomasin

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]

The Witch 11 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Note how their sticks resemble magic wands

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.

The Witch 12 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Girl Gone Wild

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.

The Witch 13 SC That dog has a lot of guts (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
That dog has a lot of guts

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.

The Witch 14 collage Trick or Treats (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Trick or Treats

0:40:34

The Witch 33 GIF Watch as the witch turns into a cougar (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Watch as the witch turns into a cougar

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.

The Witch 15 SC Caleb is on the fence (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Caleb is on the fence about religion

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!

The Witch 16 SC That's on horny goat (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
“That’s one horny goat.”

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.

The Witch 17 cinematography Rotten to the core (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Rotten to the core

[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.

The Witch 18 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us!

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.]

0:57:34

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’.

The Witch 19 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
“That was the best pomegranate of my life!”

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.

1:05:08

The Witch 20 cinematography (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
American Gothics

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

The Witch 21 GIF Eat your heart out (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Eat your heart out

1:11:48 Credit to the old bird, the crow didn’t kill her.

The Witch 22 SC Bleeding heart (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Bleeding heart

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.

The Witch 23 SC Small sacrifice (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
It’s a small sacrifice

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.]

The Witch 25 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Devilish grin

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.

The Witch 24 cinematography She loves her mum to death (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
She loves her mum to death

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.

The Witch 26 GIF She'll give the Devil the shirt off her back (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
She’ll give the Devil the shirt off her back

1:22:04 

The Witch 27 SC The end of the film (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
The end of the film

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.

The Witch 28 GIF Getting high (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Getting high

1:24:21 

The Witch 29 cinematography Branching out into witchcraft (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Branching out into witchcraft

1:24:34

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.

Roll credits

The Ending

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 [1:20:38not 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.

The Witch 30 SC Wands (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)What about her telling Mercy she was a witch? you ask [24:16]. As believable as Thomasin made it sound, she was only teasing Mercy here, because her little sister was getting on her last nerve.

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–

The Witch 23 SC Small sacrifice (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

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.

The Witch 31 SC Axe to grind (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
He’s got an axe to grind

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.

The Witch 32 SC Corny (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
My corny jokes make them ill

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!

Tally Ho’

  • 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.

8 Fs

  • 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.

All GIFs used in this review were created with the Imgflip online meme generator

[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.

The Witch 34 SC Eggers Email (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos

The Witch 35 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Wants to give trekking a shot
The Witch 36 SC Stranger Danger (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Stranger Danger
The Witch 37 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
“We could use him as a carpet.”
The Witch 38 (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Thomasin learns how to put on lipstick
The Witch 39 SC Thomasin is hot as HELL (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)
Thomasin is hot as…HELL

Prints suitable for reposting!

WTF!? did they say?

The Witch 40 WDTS Black Pillip (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

WTF!? do you meme?

 The Witch 42 meme Mum and dad invent the wave (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

The Witch 43 meme That kid can dance (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

The Witch 41 meme Hot as Hell (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

What to Follow Up

WTF Reviews

WTF explanation of another horror film
WTF explanation of a horrible film
WTF look at another horror film in the forest

Bar None Review

Bar None review of Elle Fanning fighting a witch in the woods in Maleficent

Fernby Films Review

Fernby Films review a witch’s worst enemy

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The Witch 40 Me (WTF Watch The Film Saint Pauly)

11 thoughts on “WTF: The Witch (2015)

  1. I kinda skimmed your review here mate, I’m hoping to see this in a few when it’s out on DVD (although I’ll have to pick a time when the wife’s out, because she hates these kinds of movies) and don’t want to spoil it, but I had to read your email from Eggers. Nice work! I can’t wait to watch this one myself…. Looks awesome.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I enjoy writing these so much, so it’s nice to see the pleasure is shared. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

      WTF!? (Watch The Film)

      Saint Pauly

      Like

    1. Hallo Sida Li!

      Thank you for you visit!

      I really enjoyed the film, as you saw, though I wouldn’t consider it a horror film. I found it thought provoking, as well! Can I ask, why do you find the powerlessness of the characters refreshing? Is it because most films show the heros fighting and winning throughout?

      Thanks again for your comment!

      WTF Sida Li (Watch The Film)!

      Saint Pauly

      Like

  2. A very well written and interesting article as always, and it’s really cool that Eggers replied. I also gave it 8/10, there was a constant and unsettling sense of dread throughout which is what makes a good horror IMO. I agree with your analysis but what do you make of the theory that the dead goats (outside the pen at the end, just before Black Phillip’s attack on William) are the twins? I can’t remember any mention of this idea

    Thanks,
    Matt

    Like

    1. Hallo, Matt!

      Thank you ever so much for your comment! So glad you enjoyed both the synopsis and the film.

      I touch on the twins’ fate at the end of the article, under The Ending heading, subheading ‘So what happens to the twins?’ The twins were taken away at night by a flying witch, which is demonstrated by the damage to the roof of the goat pen (there is a photo in the article), the script (I believe I’ve linked to it), and the dialogue:

      Katherine: Where are they!?
      Thomasin: I know not what I saw!
      Katherine: Where are they!?
      Thomasin: She came from the sky–

      Hour this answers your question. Thank you once more for your visit!

      WTF!? Matt (Watch The Film),

      Saint Pauly

      Like

      1. Thanks for your response, Saint Pauly

        You’re right, and that’s exactly what I got from watching the film but then I noticed there were 2 dead goats left behind. Did the family always have 2 white goats? I thought there was just the one in Flora but I expect I’m mistaken

        Thanks again,
        Matt

        Like

        1. Hi there, Matt!

          Good point about the two white goats. It’s true they spoke about Flora, who I assume is a foil for Black Phillip, to show the viewer what a normal goat is like, with the white colour highlighting that difference all the more. Gun to my head, I’d say Eggers had more than one got but only needed to reference one to make his point. If we assume the twins were changed into goats, that would mean one of them was Flora, yet we’d seen Flora and the twins together before the disappearance. I think I’m going to stay with the theory that the twins were spirited away and the family had two white goats, with only one emphasized in the story.

          Thanks once more for the visit, my friend!

          WTF!? Matt (Watch The Film),

          Saint Pauly

          Like

  3. I always assumed the “V V” in the title was a stylized representation of the twins (both aged 5), as they are seemingly the antagonists (along with Black Phillip).

    Like

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