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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Meet the man behind “The Witch” and your Puritan nightmares

    PunkToad (CC BY 2.0)
    Writer-director Robert Eggers at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 27, 2015. Eggers’ directorial debut “The Witch” depicts a Purtian nightmare in 1630s New England.

    In winter 2015, a witch descended on a sleepy, unsuspecting, snowy town in northern Utah. Rather, the indie horror film “The Witch” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 27, 2015.

    Word-of-mouth buzz is everything at Sundance and the film, written and directed by first-timer Robert Eggers, garnered quite a bit of hype. As a result, rising distributor A24 (see: “Ex Machina,” “The End of the Tour,” “Room”) acquired the film.

    Mainstream audiences, however, weren’t able to see for themselves what the hype was all about for over a year after the premiere, when “The Witch” was released nationally on Feb. 19.

    The film has currently grossed $19 million on a $3.5 million budget and is “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes at 89%, making it both a financial and critical success.

    The Daily Wildcat participated in a conference call with Eggers and asked him questions about his successful first feature.

    Early on, the witch — who haunts the English Puritan family — makes an eerie appearance by stealing away baby Samuel. Back at her hut in the woods, the poor baby meets a gruesome end. Eggers elaborated on the necessity of establishing the film’s stakes immediately.

    “People needed to know what a 17th-century witch was [and] what she was capable of right away,” Eggers said. “Because people think of an evil witch and they think of Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.”

    Although the scene is dark, both literally and figuratively, no violence appears onscreen. This is a staple tactic of horror. For example, instead of showing someone actually being eaten in “Jaws,” only the aftermath is shown, be it a corpse or a shredded, inflatable raft.

    “It’s about restraint,” Eggers said. “So, better to indicate. Leave it to the audience’s imagination.”

    Previous acting experience varied for the cast of “The Witch.” Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, who play the religiously stalwart parents, are acting veterans. While both appeared in high-profile productions like “Game of Thrones,” they have opposing acting styles.

    “[Ralph] is pretty technical and he is very proud that he’s not a method actor, and he’s very aware of the camera and how to position his body,” Eggers said. “Kate also is just as experienced but she’s all about emotion. If I get too involved with camera marks and technical things like that, it’s hard for her to do her best work.”

    On the other hand, Anya Taylor-Joy, who is around 19 years old, must carry the lead role of the coming-of-age Thomasin. With this being Taylor-Joy’s first feature film in which she developed her acting chops, Eggers, who studied acting at a conservatory, employed a variety of different acting strategies with the fledgling actress.

    “I could do all kinds of different things with her … because she doesn’t have, like, her own technique yet,” Eggers said. “So it was me … throwing different things out at [Taylor-Joy] to get what I needed at the time.”

    While the film accrued its share of fans who claim it to be one of the best recent indie horror films, along with favorites such as “It Follows” and “The Babadook,” one vote of approval was unexpected — meaning, The Satanic Temple officially endorsed “The Witch”.

    And what is Eggers’ take on the matter?

    “It’s nice to have fans,” he said.

    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter.

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