Seeped in equal parts folk tale and Judeo-Christian theology, The Witch is a different kind of horror film, one dense with religious talk and a smattering of actual witching. It’s the Judeo-Christian themes, particularly how the film relates to the book of Genesis, that makes the film a thoughtful and engaging work.
Set in the 1630s, a devout religious family is thrown out of one of the colonies and strives to live on their own. The father, William (Ralph Ineson), leads the family as best he can, but soon it becomes clear that the family is experiencing witchings. The mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), cast suspicion on the eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), placing the eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) in a bind when his loyalties are tested.
It’s interesting how the family’s life mimics and reinforces ideas found in the book of Genesis. For instance, they are outcasts from the colonies, mimicking Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden of Eden. In a way, their leaving the colonies is entering in and facing a fallen world and the legacy of sin. This is something William teaches to his kids, drilling Caleb on his sinful nature.
Caleb is more than aware of his sinful nature. He first manifest it when he lies to his mother about what he and his father did in the woods, saying they went looking for an apple tree, a lie that faintly echoes the original sin of eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis. Fruit later returns to Caleb again, the second time as a curse.
But Caleb’s sinful nature runs deeper than lies. He also experiences a sexual awakening and that makes him begin to lust after the only young woman around him: his sister, Thomasin. Voyeuristic glances at her bosom and later being cradled up against her chest becomes a moment where the sin of lust takes grip upon him. Later that sin will bear its own fruit.
In this fallen world, there is more than just a legacy of sin, the earth itself is left in a corrupt state. William is faced with the difficult task of running a farm, one which he fails at miserably as the crops do not yield enough food. Again and again he returns to the chopping block, working hard but with little to show for his work. As Genesis 3:17 says “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”
But how does the titular witch figure into all of this? While the rest of the film deals with an evil born of man, the witch recognizes another form of evil let upon the world, the supernatural evil that man fights against. Ephesians 6:12 says “ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Therefore, the witch is just one part of the evil the family must face. And that’s how The Witch shines as a masterful horror film, it recognizes this holistic, complex picture of evil that results from the fall in the garden of evil. There’s a minimal amount of actual witch activities in the film, in part because it’s just one dimension of the evil at work in the film.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing