AUTHOR: Mark Liebrecht
IDENTIFICATION: The Witch (Drama), written by Robert Eggers
Banished from their colony, a family must build a new home and fend for themselves as they find they are being tormented by a witch in the forest.
The script gets points for believable 16th century dialog, it follows a tired premise of something evil in the woods that has been done to death, and really doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The story is supposed to be a horror genre, but doesn’t really deliver on the scary, it settles for unsettling images of geriatric nudity, infanticide and implied incestuous relations. If the goal is to make the audience feel uneasy and depressed, this script does the job, but I don’t believe that justifies making it into a feature film.
The story begins with a family being banished from the plantation for the father’s beliefs. They find a new home. Time passes and they have a baby named Samuel, who is taken off the farm by his oldest sister Thomasin. While playing the baby is stolen while Thomasin had her eyes covered. A witch in a red cloak is seen carrying Samuel into a hut, where she kills the baby and then grinds up the body and rubs the remains on herself. Back at the farm the mother, Katherine spends her days crying. Caleb, the oldest son wakes up and takes a moment to stare at his older sister’s body. He goes to see his father, William, who is looking over his dying crops. They have given up the search for Samuel. The two of them set off with the dog and a gun to find and kill the wolf that they think took Samuel. All they’re able to find in the woods is a hare, which William tries to shoot, but instead has his gun backfire in his face. While this is going on the twins, Jonas and Mercy torment a goat while Thomasin shovels it’s dung.
William and Caleb return in time to save the twins from the billy goat they were tormenting. William slips and falls into a pile of dung. Katherine tells Thomasin to help her father out if his clothes, and Caleb and Katherine watch as this happens, and neither of them are happy with the she undresses him. Katherine reprimands William and Caleb for leaving the farm. Caleb lies and says they were looking for apples as a surprise for her. William spends time chopping wood. Caleb goes to the stream to get water and check out his sister, and she ends up holding him until they hear something in the grass, which turns out to be Mercy pretending to be a witch. Thomasin tries to scare her and tells her that she was the witch all along. William and Katherine think the kids are all asleep and discuss selling Thomasin off to another family. Caleb and Thomasin hear this. Caleb takes it upon himself to find food for the family so Thomasin won’t need to serve another family. They see the same hare that William tried to shoot earlier when the gun backfired in his face. The dog and Caleb take off after the hare, leaving Thomasin to get knocked unconscious by the horse as it ran away. She runs home when Caleb and the horse don’t respond to her. Caleb hears the dog yelp and finds it’s remains. Caleb loses the gun and sees the hare again. He chases after it to the witch’s hut. The hare has been replaced by a young woman wearing the witches clothing, she kisses Caleb and is revealed to be the witch.
Back at the house Thomasin tends to the goats, when Caleb reappears on the farm, naked and half dead in the rain. When they get him in the house Katherine and Thomasin look after Caleb while the twins stare at Thomasin, thinking she’s responsible. While this is going on, William is outside again chopping wood. The twins speak to Black Phillip, the billy goat while Thomasin milks the nanny goats. As she milks the goat, blood comes out. Thomasin tries to cover the blood with dung. Caleb wakes up screaming describing what he was thinking when the witch got a hold of him in her hut before he starts choking and spits out a rotting apple. The twins accuse Thomasin of being the witch causing their misery. Caleb wakes again praying and passes away while the twins collapse. Thomasin tells her parents that the twins made covenant with the devil in the shape of Black Phillip. William locks all three up in the shed until morning, when they’ll be taken back to the plantation. Caleb is buried while the three remaining children are locked in the shed. William chops more wood. That night Katherine sees her dead children in front of her where she breastfeeds Samuel who turns out to be a raven. Jonas and Mercy are woken up by the witch who takes them away. Thomasin wakes up covered in blood while Black Phillip runs around the farm and maims William, before slamming him into the woodpile he made, which crushes him. Katherine attacks Thomasin for killing her father and siblings. Thomasin then kills her mother in self defense. Later Thomasin reaches out to Black Phillip who assumes human form to get her to sign his book. She strips naked and joins the other witches in the forest as she starts to levitate around a fire with the rest of them.
This script wants to be a horror movie but instead of scaring the audience, it instead strives to make them uncomfortable. Focuses on a family that is separated from society. The kids have no one else their own age to socialize with outside of their own family. They have no help outside of themselves.
The story is hard to read. It’s centered on a religion that believes everyone is born to be damned, which helps to take away any sense of hope for these characters. The murder of a baby within the first few scenes of the script, quickly removes any hope, and isn’t scary as much as it is stomach churning. Yes, you get the idea that the villain is pure evil, but it eliminates that there is any hope at all that the child could turn up, and that the whole which thing is just mass hysteria. It would be better left to the imagination how scary/real the witch is until the end. Like they say about the shark in Jaws, less is more. What you can imagine is far scarier than anything that could be put in screen. Also, the implied incestuous behavior between Thomasin and her father or brother is nothing anyone wants to read about or see on screen. Again, not scary, just cringeworthy. Cutting the incest angle, and just implying at the end of the movie that Samuel and the twins were murdered by the witch would make the movie easier to watch, but I don’t think that’s what the screenwriter was going for. They don’t want this “horror” movie to be scary, they just want the audience to feel depressing and uncomfortable. The only thing that makes any sense in this story is William going outside to chop wood anytime something begins to bother him. It’s the one thing he’s has control over, but in the end the pile of wood got so high that when he got rammed into the wood pile by Black Phillip, he was crushed under the weight of it. If that wood represented his problems, he was literally crushed under the weight of his own problems.
In terms of structure, the biggest mistake in this script was having the witch be revealed as a real entity early on, and the killing of baby Samuel. Too early in the story you know the witch is real, and just an old lady in the woods, and once you know the baby is dead, there is no sense of hope, and it’s pretty clear that everyone else in this story is going to die, so you can’t let yourself get attached to any of the characters. I’d suggest leaving the reveal to the 2ndlast scene of the movie, where the audience can see the fate of Samuel and the twins, and have all hope dashed there, just before Thomasin joins the other witches in the circle around the fire.
The dialog was well written, and fitting for a movie that takes place in this time. Honestly, I had to re-read the dialog a couple times to make sure I was understanding everything the characters were saying, as I, like many people not born in the 1600s are not use to people speaking this way. Still, it comes across as historically accurate for the time in which this story takes place, so I believe the writer did quite well here, and I don’t think I’d change any of the dialog.