February 01, 2015

New England Folk Horrror a Big Hit at Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance film festival just wrapped up, and one of the surprise hits this year is a horror film based on New England folklore.

The movie is called The Witch, and it sounds like something readers of this blog would really enjoy. Here's the basic premise. The year is 1630, and a farmer named William and his wife have been exiled from their New England settlement for being religious extremists. They've carved out a small farm on the edge of a forest where they and their five children try to eke out a meager existence.

Anya-Taylor Joy in The Witch

Life isn't easy on the farm, and their crops are failing as winter slowly approaches. Things aren't looking good, and tensions within the family increase when their infant son Samuel disappears while under the care of oldest daughter Thomasin. Was it merely negligence or was it something more?

The Witch is being billed as a horror film, so I think it's not just negligence. Accusations fly within the family and things get weird. Why is eldest son Caleb, who likes to hunt alone in the dark woods, suddenly speaking in tongues? Should the parents be concerned that the young twins Mercy and Jonas are spending a lot of time with the family's goat, a large beast named Black Phillip? Who, if anyone, is actually the witch of the title?

Welcome to sunny New England! A still from The Witch.

We'll have to wait a while to get answers. A release date hasn't been set yet, but it looks like The Witch will be shown in theaters and through DirecTV at some point. But some reviews have said the movie's ending is ambiguous, so maybe we won't get any clear answers at all. The Witch has been described as a cross between The Crucible, The Shining and The Exorcist which should give some indication of what type of movie it is.

The director is Robert Eggers, a New Yorker who was born in New Hampshire. He has said the movie was inspired by old New England folk stories, and that he strove for authenticity in the costumes, sets and even the language. Here's a quote from an interview:

"The kind of research I did here was wild and obsessive, almost disgusting,” he says. “I have always been into folktales and fairy tales and New England’s past, so with this film I wanted to create an archetypal New England horror story. Something that would feel like an inherited nightmare of a Puritan family."

It all sounds great to me! I'm excited to see something set so early in our country's history. It might be the art house answer to The Lords of Salem.

Making horror films about New England witchcraft is challenging. After all, there weren't any real witches executed during the witch trials, just innocent victims of gossip and politics. The real witches were lurking where they always have been, barely glimpsed in our dreams and deep in the dark woods of our unconscious. Horror films often ignore these historical and psychological nuances and just go for the gore. I'll be curious to see what path The Witch takes.


ChristineM said...

Can't wait to see this.

Peter Muise said...

I agree! The blend of art film, horror and folklore looks really good to me.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Maine, and now live in Southern NH. I grew up hearing about Witch Trot Road in S. Berwick. I'm just wondering if you have any info on the facts about the road. It's said to be haunted and I've been there, and it's creepy! But I was told it was named that because the witches were made to walk that rout all the way to Salem Mass

Peter Muise said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks for the comment. I've been meaning to blog about Witch Trot Road for a while. It's worth an entire post so I'll make it my topic for next week. Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The trailer is now out on Youtube. Hands down the most frightening thing I have ever seen!