[WARNING: This review contains spoilers!]
Director Robert Eggers debut film The Witch is getting a fair amount of attention. It appears to be #4 in the box office and rave reviews are flooding in from many critics.
Everyday mortal viewers like myself, on the other hand, have been somewhat unforgiving. Why? Because although The Witch is creepy, weird, and unsettling, its problems are myriad. The visuals are nice and its well acted. It has several nice shocks and some genuinely disturbing scenes. But the dialogue is period accurate for the 1600s, which means you can understand only two thirds of what’s said. And the ending is incredibly dark, the darkest in recent memory.
The film is billed as a “New England fairy tale” and as everyone knows, fairy tales are lessons for children. Little Red Riding Hood warns little girls about the dangers straying off the path of abstinence. The Three Little Pigs encourages kids not to be lazy and to do things right the first time. The Pancake warns kids that if you get sassy and run away from home before you’re ready, you might fall prey to greedy pigs.
What is the lesson taught by The Witch? Some say it empowers women.
“[I]t features a declaration of feminine independence that both provokes puritanical America and inspires a tradition of spiritual transgression. We are empowered by the narrative of The Witch: a story of pathological pride, old-world religious paradigms, and an outsider who grabs persecution by the horns. Efforts to oppress and demonize the heretic prove to be a path to destruction. The witch does not burn but rises up in the night.”
Really? Did we watch the same movie?
Sure, it’s true that it accurately portrays the patriarchal nightmare of puritanical early America. Poor Thomasin, the movie’s young heroine, is trapped by her worthless father and mother in a horrid, dark, and oppressive home environment in which, although innocent of wrongdoing, she is continually blamed. The evil witches abduct and kill her little brother Sam. They lure away her other brother Caleb, whom they seduce, poison and kill. These witches love to kill and mutilate stuff — dogs, goats, you name it. Eventually they get around to slaughtering her two remaining siblings as well.
The film may kick patriarchy in the scrotum, but there’s no way out for our heroine. In the end, after being forced to kill her own deluded mother in self-defense, Thomasin has no choice: in order to survive, she must sign her name in the book of another male authority figure. Sure, this one can take the form of the goat and get you high in the woods, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. It’s not freedom.
Cheering at the ending of this movie is like cheering about a girl escaping from her oppressive parents into the arms of a gang of meth heads. The Witch, with utter realism, says the same thing that every real life gangster, pusher, pimp and low-life scum has said since time began.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.