Weeks ahead of its February premiere, The Witch is already poised to change conventional expectations of how audiences experience New England folk horror. The film is filled with well-worn symbols from Puritan America as well as the occult, but Robert Eggers's 17th-century tale of paranoia takes these familiar signs and offers a new perspective on fear.
Set in the 1600s, The Witch follows a family who must strike out on their own in an unsettled plot of New England land after being banished from their community for their ascetic beliefs. They were pursuing God, as the trailer's voice-over makes clear, but what they found instead were dark omens.
"What we went out in the wilderness to find? Leaving our country, kindred, our father’s houses, for what? For the kingdom of God."
Here are some of the classic symbols of horror to look out for in The Witch. Once you see the finale, you'll never look at them the same way again.
1. The Goat
In the Bible (a good starting point for allusions due to the film's religious themes), the goat often stands for a sacrifice; a pious offering to a forgiving God to express an unrelenting faith. However, the goat also brings to mind a more sinister connotation: that of Baphomet and ties to Satanism.
Indeed, another term for Baphomet is "Black Goat," a creature that features prominently in The Witch as one of the farm's key animals. In the movie's first trailer, Black Phillip is a deeply unsettling figure, to whom the equally creepy children whisper. In other horror films, Black Phillip might be a familiar for a witch or a vessel for possession (like in Drag Me To Hell), but just wait until you see how Eggers manipulates this multifaceted symbol by film's end.
2. Milking Blood
Black Phillip and the other significant animals play into many more of the film's allusions. In this case, the goat can also symbolize regenerative power and abundance. This same idea plays into the concept of breast milk, which nourishes young life and keeps new generations alive.
As the family begins to experience unexplainable misfortune — their crops die, objects start disappearing — they must rely on their livestock for survival. As the main character Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a girl on the cusp of a flourishing sexuality, milks one of the family goats, blood unexpectedly shoots out into the bucket.
Thomasin recognizes this as a harbinger of more misfortune, but more importantly, she realizes that her family could accuse her of dancing with the devil in their desperation to point fingers. This puts into motion a cascade of unease for the rest of the film.
3. Disappearing Baby
As the film's terrifying inciting incident, Thomasin plays a seemingly innocent game of peekaboo with her infant brother — only to discover that he's disappeared without a trace. This sets into motion The Witch's central mystery: Did an animal snatch the baby, or is there something more sinister at play?
Though the loss of a child is always troubling, for Thomasin, the disappearance starts an internal conflict fueled by ghastly visions. She begins to see a naked old crone grinding body parts in what looks like a cave. Could this be the wizened baby snatcher in the flesh?
But there's another possible outcome that fans of horror films might have already seen coming. Knowingly or unknowingly, Thomasin herself could be at fault, potentially exchanging her own innocence (as she grows into adulthood) for the supernatural powers of a witch.
This troubling question and the ones mentioned earlier create a perfectly paced and unique film packed with lingering intensity. Trust me, you'll be left to consider the meaning behind The Witch and its symbols, long after the curtain closes.
Be sure to check out these symbols and more when 'The Witch' swoops into theaters on February 19, 2016.