Family can be a thing, right? We love them dearly, of course, but every once in a while, they make us question how deep that love reservoir really goes. Family members can annoy us, criticize us, and show us the worst parts of ourselves. They know us the best; therefore, they know exactly where to stick the knife and which direction to twist it.
Those are the moments that suck, and those are the moments The Witch turns into unfiltered dread. If we set aside the horror tropes, Robert Eggers‘ 2011 flick is all about the awful things we do to those we love and just how easy it is for a community to eat each other alive.
The family in The Witch are doomed the second the opening credits end. Banished from their own community for being too hardcore religious—which is saying something for Puritans—they set out to create their own settlement. Spoilers for those who haven’t seen the flick, but it doesn’t go well. Truthfully it was never going to go well.
Satan and a coven of witches didn’t hex the family to turn them into the worst versions of themselves. They simply brought to boil what was simmering the entire time. An overbearing patriarch, a jealousy-ridden matriarch, two terrible twins, an adolescent son, and Thomasin, a teenage girl who is bordering on womanhood and just wants a way out, aren’t mixing well. It’s all made worse by the fact they’re isolated in the middle of nothing.
When people who love each other are put in uniquely terrible situations, the human equation of “human being” emerges. And it’s not always pretty. Everything they do becomes a thing because we notice behavior we didn’t before. The way they chew their food, clear their throat, or even the sound of their voice can start to annoy. An unprecedented inciting incident, like getting your baby stolen or a pandemic, highlight the flaws of the people we love most. We’re already on edge, and all it takes is one little nudge to push us over the precipice.
The Witch builds on all those moments that show us who our loved ones really are. Thomasin’s dad, realizing that, ya know, food is essential, trades her mother’s prized silver for hunting supplies. The mother, already a wreck because of her missing baby, blames Thomasin. Rather than do what a dad would do, he does what a flawed human might do. He lets Thomasin take the fall long enough where the couple legitimately discusses giving their oldest daughter away to another family.
This isn’t to say moms and dads across the globe want to give their children away. However, it does reinforce the fact that self-preservation is our number one instinct. Humans are complicated and oh so flawed. So, when push comes to shove, we may press back and hurt those we care about in the process.
Those who know us the best not only get close enough to sell us out, they also know where every single pressure point is. What’s worse is those people know precisely how long to squeeze to inflict maximum pain. That saying about hurt people hurting people? Yeah, it’s basically that in a nutshell. Thomasin’s youngest sibs are monumental pains in the butt who pick on her fears and insecurities. The twins are a mess, even if no one else in the family can see it. Seriously, why wouldn’t they be? Besides all the obvious reasons the movie presents, they’re also pretty much ignored. Like most children who feel neglected, they act out for attention.
Not saying it’s cool to accuse your big sister of witchcraft and pretend to be comatose, but the motivation is easily understandable. When a family suffers one trauma after another, it’s usually the kids who bear the brunt. Whether it’s Satan and his witches or COVID-19, that’s a pretty big brunt to carry for narrow shoulders. Setting aside their motivation, how the twins treat Thomasin is another example of her family turning against her when she needs them the most.
Our transgressions towards our family and our community are like Jenga blocks. We may get away with pulling a few out of place, but eventually, the whole thing comes tumbling down. For Thomasin, that devastation hits its peak when her father not only accuses her of being a witch but blames her for everything gone wrong. Whether it’s the barren land, the dead children, or just the toxic relationship he has with his wife, it’s all on Thomasin. Ultimately, she’s the reason God is no longer taking their calls. When nothing is going right, family is often in the crosshairs.
For men like Thomasin’s dad, ones filled with pride and hubris, a scapegoat is always necessary. People throughout history often looked to someone else to hiss and boo at for the ills of society, an easy answer to complex problems. Humans were never genuinely great at the whole “love thy neighbor” thing, even if we tell ourselves the opposite. The Witch puts all of that history in the harshness of daylight and forces us to reckon with an uncomfortable truth: maybe we are only as good as the world allows us to be.
It’s easy to be good when everything is excellent, but that learning curve gets sharper when the brown stuff hits the fan. Treating our inner circle right is far from a given; it’s a choice we make every day. Thomasin’s family made the wrong choices at every single fork in the road, causing her to make the only decision she could. Religious doctrine—and the Paranormal Activity franchise—says evil preys on the ripest fruit. Those already open to suggestions due to more than a couple of hardships are easy pickings for the wicked.
But The Witch goes one step further and says bad situations just make bad people worse. And unless people address the root of the issues within their families or their communities, it’s not a question of if something awful will pop off but when.
For Thomasin, and for many people in the real world, family truly is an F-word.