The analysis in this review and explainer contains major spoilers.
The breakout horror film The Witch — also officially known as The VVitch: A New England Folktale (2015) because cool titles are cool — explores a very dark era of both history and society. Puritanical times were straight-up awful, whether you’re considering the way people were treated or the way they had to struggle for survival. When I watch movies like this I like to go open my fridge and just stand there, staring at all the nice cold food that I didn’t have to kill with my bare hands.
Anyway, I’ve found viewers are mostly divided on this film. You either love it or hate it. I, for one, was horrified — but that’s what I want out of a horror movie. I’m a big fan of scary flicks that actually make me feel uncomfortable, unsettled… I love the sensation of losing control, and that’s exactly how I felt as The Witch went on. I felt as though I were slipping towards insanity right along with Thomasin and her family. (You know, in a not-actually-losing-your-sanity sort of way.)
One of its big draws — for me, at least — was that as you watch tragedy after tragedy unfold, as the body count rises and accusations begin to be thrown about, you’re left scratching your head and wondering “What’s happening here? Are they going crazy? Are they already crazy? Has the harsh reality of being exiled, living on their own, and losing an infant driven an entire family of Puritans mad and all this is just a byproduct of their poor circumstances?” Then Black Phillip speaks, Thomasin walks into the night, and it seems all our questions are answered.
Explanation + Analysis
Well, I still had one big question: why did all this happen? What’s the meaning of it all?
I suppose Puritans (and even some Christians today, for that matter) truly believe that Satan walks among us and is constantly ready to corrupt any poor soul that crosses his path. But I did a lot of thinking, watched the film a few more times, and I think I know the answer.
Now, bear with me. This is just a theory. But I’m going to walk you through it, and you better believe that the next time you watch The Witch your mind is going to be blown.
We start by meeting our Puritan family — William, the patriarch; Katherine, his pregnant wife; Thomasin, the eldest daughter; Caleb, the eldest son; and twins, Mercy and Jonas. (Also, seriously, screw those twins. They are the WORST.) William, and by extension the rest, are being banished from a Puritan society because William bears the “sin of prideful conceit.”
William refuses to back down and they leave, heads held high. The only one who seems hesitant, as though she wishes she could stay, is Thomasin. She’s the only one who looks back. That’s important.
Later, we see the family settled down at a remote farm where they’re fending for themselves. Katherine has given birth to baby Samuel. Food is scarce and times are hard. Then we hear from Thomasin. Kneeling, hands clasped in prayer, she begs for forgiveness.
I here confess I’ve lived in sin. I’ve been idle of my work, disobedient of my parents, neglectful of my prayer. I have, in secret, played upon thy Sabbath, and broken every one of thy commandments in thoughts. Followed the desires of mine own will, and not the Holy Spirit. I know I deserve all shame and misery in this life, and everlasting hellfire. But I beg thee, for the sake of thy Son, forgive me, show me mercy, show me thy light.
That’s it. That’s the magic moment. That’s where it all gets set in motion.
What, you don’t get it? It took me a minute, too. So I’ll spell it out for you:
By doing this, Thomasin has made herself a target for Satan. In her desperation to be saved, she has actually damned herself.
Now again, this is just a theory. But for all the members of the family, she’s the only one who actually seems to be self-aware in her “impurity.” Thomasin knows she’s a sinner and is literally begging for God’s forgiveness. The rest of her family, to be quite frank, are pretty shitty. (I guess Caleb’s okay but I mean, he keeps checking out his sister’s tits. That’s weird.) Assuming that Black Phillip has, all along, been Satan in disguise (as we discover at the end of the movie) — or at least able to use the goat as his messenger — Satan has now basically had a sparkling example of a good Puritan woman dangled in front of him. Who better to corrupt than that?
William has already proven he’s conceited, so that’s no fun. Katherine is a pretty petty bitch. I’ve already covered the twins. (Seriously, screw the twins.) And Caleb is apparently better suited as a snack for the Witch of the Wood instead. But Thomasin? Thomasin is a challenge.
Instead of God hearing her call, Satan has answered instead. And everything that happens after that is meant to drive Thomasin straight into his arms.
Hey, it works, doesn’t it?
Additionally, Thomasin seems to be the only one in her family who cares about the finer things in life. Caleb doesn’t remember the glass windows from their time in England but she does, and with relish. So when the human voice of Black Phillip tempts her, it’s with specific things she wishes she could have — “the taste of butter, a pretty dress” — Satan knows that even with everything that happens, she needs that last little push. And so he asks her:
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
And yes. Yes she would.
I also appreciate the dissonance between how we meet Thomasin and how we leave her. Check these out side by side:
Our first look at Thomasin VS our last look at Thomasin. Everything from her expression, her dress, the direction she’s looking, the state of her hair, even the color palette of the shot is completely the opposite. There’s no way that was an accident.
So there you have it. In my opinion, by pleading aloud for God to save her, she accidentally made herself a tasty target for Satan.
Bonus round: wondering what happened to those shitty, awful twins? Well, as we saw in the beginning with Samuel (RIP,) the fat of sacrificed children is used in a spell to make witches fly. Apparently, that’s a thing. There’s a big ol’ bonfire in the woods, surrounded by the other witches, who — along with Thomasin — begin to fly.
I’ll let you make your own conclusion.
Frequently Asked Questions
What time period is The Witch set in?
How did the witch take the baby?
What does the witch do to the baby?
So, the witch kills the baby, grinds his body to paste, and uses the paste as a magical ointment that gives her the ability of flight.
What happened to the witch in the end?
What does Black Phillip say at the end of The Witch?
Black Phillip: What dost thou want?
Thomasin: What canst thou give?
BP: Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
BP: Wouldst thou like to see the world?
T: What will you from me?
BP: Dost thou see the book before thee? Remove thy shift.
T: I cannot write my name.
BP: I will guide thy hand.
Though Black Phillip’s temptations (butter, a dress, etc.) have confused some viewers, Robert Eggers explains that his research showed that these were things people who confessed to being a witch actually wished for. Also, within the context of Thomasin’s state of mind at the end of The Witch, she didn’t really need much in the way of temptation. Thomasin was ready to sign Black Phillips book before he ever said anything.