The Witch Review
This is, quite simply, one of the best horror movies that you will watch. This movie
does not hide behind cheap scares and grotesque effects, but rather makes full use
of the immutable and terrifying truths of our world. The Devil and his servants are
real, and that the wage of sin is death. If you wish merely to have this movie
recommended to you, stop here and see for yourself. If you don’t mind me spoiling
it further by giving away specific plot points, then proceed.
The story takes place in rural Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century.
Puritans. Indeed, much of the dialogue, plot, and character building was drawn
directly from primary sources of the time. One would be very accurate in saying
that this movie is a dramatization of an amalgamation of true events. The family
consists of William, the father; Kate, the mother; Caleb, the older son; Thomasin,
the eldest daughter and main character; the twins Mercy and Jonas, younger
siblings; Samuel, the baby; The Witch; and “Black Philip”, the family’s goat. William
has had a disagreement with the governor and religious authorities so he has been
cast out, bringing his family into the untrained wilderness where they struggle to
hunt and grow crops. Morale is low.
The movie as I said deals with two very important facts in Christian dogma- sin
leads to death in a physical and spiritual sense and that corrupting evil is very much
real and active. The initial conflict in the film, for instance, is that The Witch begins
to prey on the isolated family and is able to magic the infant Samuel because he is
unbaptized. She causes him to disappear right before the eyes of Thomasin. This
shows the Power of the Sacraments- baptism robes us in Christ; evil and death do
not have sway over the baptized unless they participate in it. This is an important
lesson for later; evil can still have sway over Christians if they participate in it.
Samuel is killed by the Witch and used in a ritual and ingredient for her Magic,
specifically for Flying Ointment. I wouldn’t recommend researching much in to
witchcraft, but suffice to say the filmmakers clearly have and they did a good job.
Augustin Calmet argues that the ointments made by witches are often if not
exclusively psychedelic in nature, and that witches are often deceived themselves
by Demons, who wield the true power. The movie is ambiguous in this regard, but
more on that later.
Despite this major trauma, the family dismisses the loss as a wolf attack and seems
to continue on as “normal”. The important thing to note here is that “normal” for
the family is their disordered behaviors which foreshadow their deaths. Since the
beginning and end of the movie deal with the reality of evil, the middle of the movie
deals with sin and it’s ultimate end of death. Here follows the flaws of each
character and how these lead to a death that directly reflects their sins.
The father, William, is show to be well intentioned but utterly failing in his duties as
a man and head of the household. He cannot provide: his crops wither and he is
completely incapable of hunting and trapping; Caleb instead is show to go out and
actually procure game. Not to be graphic, but there are deliberate sexual
undertones in this movie and part of it is reflected in William’s character. William
cannot hunt and provide, at one point because it is show that his “gun doesn’t
work.” I won’t explain that one further, it should speak for himself. Ultimately, Kate
and Thomasin chastise his shortcomings, pointing out that all he does is “chop
wood;” which again has euphemistic undertones for Williams impotence as a man.
William’s pride prevented the baptism of his son, leading to his death. His inability
to provide leads to the death of Caleb, and he shuts his remaining children in with
Black Philip who are all to varying degrees suspected of witchcraft, which puts those
that profess their innocence at risk. Ultimately Black Philip gores William, and he
falls back into the immense woodpile he has built which crushes him. Williams
death is easily the most symbolic and it’s really well done.
Kate is the mother, and she also woefully fails at her duties. She outsourced most of
her motherly/wifely duties to Thomasin, and though morns her children when they
pass briefly, abandons concepts of nurturing for selfish desires. Though Samuel has
been taken, the disappearance of her treasured silver cup (which William stole to
try to purchase things to cover his inabilities) occupies her far more. The cup was
from her father and shows Kate values her old family more than her new, in
contradiction to Scripture. She shows little love to Thomasin, berating her, quick to
believe she is a Witch despite very little evidence, and eventually tries to kill
Thomasin, who kills her mother in self-defense. Kate is a self-described shrew and
harridan who strikes William, which despite William not being an adequate husband
and father, does little to help, furthering the disorder in the household.Her inversion
of motherhood by not showing affection or actively attempting to kill her kids is
reflected back at her when one of her children kills her.
Caleb is seemingly innocent at a glance and professes a deep love for Christ, more
so in many ways than any other family member, but his defects are revealed if one
watches closely. He is shown to be attracted to Thomasin while she sleeps, and is
seduced by the witch when lost in the woods. He also lies to his mother in an
attempt to cover for his father, saying he went to an area he was not supposed to
in order to look for apples. After his seduction, he vomits up a whole apple and has
a really, shall we say “passionate” or “ecstatic” profession of his Love of God where
he dies. It’s a really uncomfortable scene to watch if I’m gonna be honest, and I
think here again we see the sexual undertones because he was seduced by the
witch and was shown to lust for his sister. His death also has elements of this
disordered love it seems. I suppose it’s worth saying that this movie was not made
necessarily by devout Catholics so we can’t expect perfect decorum when it comes
to the sacred.
Mercy and Jonas are basically one character. They are really young and seemingly
just innocently “in their own world” but are rather providing a heaping amount of
foreshadowing and dramatic irony. Namely, from the very beginning of the movie
are shown to talk about the Witch and being in service of Black Philip. They sing a
song to or about Black Philip prior to every instance of “witchcraft” or evil, which
simultaneous shows their sin and provides an argument that the witch may have
little to no power and it is instead “Black Philip” that does the evil magic. Mercy and
Jonas are shown as unable to pray, denoting their complete devotion to Satan. They
are sacrificed by Black Philip off scene, as he wishes to make Thomasin his new
Thomasin is an industrious character, doing most of the things her mom should do,
to include caring for the other children and doing household chores. Thomasin does
not seem to have a defect like her family members, and accordingly does not die.
She cruelly scares Mercy on one occasion, and she blackmails Caleb into doing what
she wants in another. Sins though they might be, it does not demonstrate a pattern.
Furthermore, she kills her mother and the visual is that she is “baptized” in blood.
She also, as stated, harshly criticizes her father. Ultimately it seems that this
capacity for sin rather than being a slave to it opens her up for influence by Black
At the end of the movie, she asks Black Philip if he can really talk as Mercy
and Jonas claimed. He transforms into an unseen but obviously
malformed/malevolent entity (he is the Devil himself) and offers her very
superficial temptations which cause her to fall. At the end she is shown attending a
Witch’s Sabbath, where they chant in Enochian and Black Philip grants them flight.
As Julius Caesar stated- “Men’s minds tend to fear more keenly that which is
unseen.” This movie captures this truth well, and conveys with it the dreadful
realities of sin, death, and evil. We must love God not just in word, but in deed as
Written by Vassal of Christ. A native of Ohio, VoC works full time as a Park Ranger and part time as an engineer officer in the National Guard. He has written historical essays for leisure and is currently working on works of fiction. Follow him on Twitter @VassalofChrist.