This week marks the wide release of The Witch, a truly unnerving film set in 17th-century New England. Though in many ways it succeeds as a realistic period piece, Robert Eggers' terrifying movie is also the latest entry into the horror genre that places the destruction of the family at the center alongside folktale myths and well-paced thrills.
The family structure plays a pivotal role in The Witch, in which the patriarch William uproots his family from the relative comfort of a colonial plantation to live in the wilderness. From the start, natural divisions collide with supernatural forces to create tension that could prove fatal—if these characters allow their relationships to splinter.
In their determination to do right by the Lord, each member of the family falls victim to their potentially sinful shortcomings. The Witch plays with our preconceived notions of traditional roles until one explosive finale that will leave you both paranoid and provoked.
Spoiler warning: This article may discuss some aspects of the film that are better enjoyed in theaters. Proceed with caution!
William, The Father
Considering The Witch takes place around 1630, almost all of the family's major decisions fall to the patriarch, William. He's a God-fearing man who is so stalwart in his faith, he very rarely doubts his moral convictions. His ascetic beliefs end up driving the family from an already-difficult life on a colonial plantation to one of solitude.
William is so sure that his beliefs come from a holy place that he never really stops to consider the ever-present danger of human error. Early in the film, William's infant son vanishes, but he remains fervent in his beliefs that this is part of God's plan. It isn't until some more unexplainable and devastating events take place that William starts considering that his own pride could be to blame for his family's misfortune.
But, by then, will it be too late?
Katherine, The Mother
Katherine begins the film as a mostly doting wife and effective mother, but it's not long before her own flaws begin to seep out her devout exterior. Driven to hysterics when her baby disappears, Katherine is the first to start casting aspersions on her own children.
Her suspicion lands on her eldest daughter, Thomasin, who is clearly not her mother's favorite. As the crops fail and mere survival become more daunting, Katherine's doubts become even more invasive, and she begins to unravel. As the disturbing story wears on, Katherine begins to be overtaken by an entirely different sin: envy.
Thomasin, The Eldest
On the cusp of womanhood, Thomasin tries to play the part of the reliable daughter in a new brutally unforgiving situation. After a game of peek-a-boo with her little brother leads to his unexpected kidnapping, Thomasin begins searching for answers in her faith and family. However, she tells a made-up story to her younger siblings to get them off her back, and she quickly realizes that family aren't always as reliable as they seem.
As the central figure in The Witch, Thomasin is a complex character, and audiences may never be completely sure what's going on in her head. Based on her unfortunate circumstances, though, both her naïveté and her recklessness contribute to her family's undoing, and it's way more than your average teenage angst.
Caleb, The Son
Caleb is determined to do right by his father, and the poor kid works tirelessly to help provide for the family. Removed from his community, Caleb begins inadvertently turning his attention to Thomasin when she lets a glimpse of her skin show. Deeply religious, Caleb seems to be plagued by these new feelings of lust and his simultaneous commitment to supporting his family.
As he explores the sprawling woods to hunt wild game, Caleb is ultimately affected by both of these qualities.
Mercy and Jonas, The Twins
By their very nature in horror movies, twins tend to be pretty creepy. The Witch takes that tradition and runs with it, but as is the case with most of the film, we're never really sure where these two stand within the story's unsettling events. They seem to represent the dual potential for good or bad, but their relationship with Black Philip—a goat that whispers secrets to them—is thoroughly terrifying.
As a rambunctious and unknowable pair, Mercy and Jonas have no conception of what power they hold over life and death, which means devastating results for the rest of their family.
See how paranoia overwhelms this family when 'The Witch' comes to theaters this Friday, February 19!