More than just a goat

Audiences have to make their own decisions in The Witch


“Well, I have no idea what to say about that.”

Through applause, this was one of the comments that could be heard after the intense viewing that was The Witch. It’s definitely an accurate sentiment regarding the movie, as it truly does leave a viewer speechless.

The Witch follows the life of a puritan family living in solitude in the wilderness. The youngest child mysteriously vanishes under the watch of the eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), and the family must deal with the emotional rollercoaster associated with the loss of a child as well as the undertones of what may be sinister forces.

Watching this movie will remind anyone of the events of the Salem Witch Trials. The characters exhibit the typical characteristics of the puritan witch-hating society depicted in past works, such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The family is devout in terms of their religious beliefs and are hardworking. They, especially the children, also believe in the idea of the paranormal.

Due to preconceived notions regarding the infamous witch trials, audiences may be conditioned to question the validity of the paranormal type of evil in this movie. There is a great deal of symbolism in the form of animals such as the goat, which is seen as an evil life form and associated with witchcraft. At times, it can be difficult for the viewer to decipher whether the goat is just a goat, or is actually engaging in actions detrimental to the family. In this sense, I believe that the movie recreates the same confusion that could very well have plagued puritan society at the time. Bearing this in mind, the viewer spends the majority of the movie not knowing much more than the family does. When we see things out of the ordinary, it is through the lens of a family member, so once again the validity of the information is in question.

It’s safe to say that The Witch is not your typical horror movie. If someone is looking for the quick and easy jump scare, it will not be found here. This movie is more about the decline of a family’s stability. The plot moves slowly and the environment is eerie. The tension builds, and an individual may experience more wonder than fear (though the language is old-timey English, and you may even sit there trying to decipher what the characters are saying). This sense of awe holds out until the final moments of the movie, where you’ll still be wondering what the hell is going on. Part of this has to do with there being no introduction to the mythology used. Symbolisms such as the crow, the hare, and the goat are things that one would have to research in order to discover their significance.

Speechless and confused are definitely applicable terms for my response to the film, but I mean that in a good way. Sometimes it is preferable not to be served information on a silver platter, especially in a horror movie. So many other films follow formulaic plot lines and it can be easy to predict plot, characters—hell, sometimes even the script. The Witch is none of that. There is nothing to predict. The audience will have their gore, their monsters, and evil beings, but more importantly, will be left with a sense of wonder.