The Witch is definitely everything I expected, from all the reviews and thinkpieces I’ve read of it, with a few surprises.
Although it’s a horror film, it’s more concerned with building atmosphere and character than throwing out cheap scares. The imagery puts me in mind of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s nature pieces, like The Bear. The soundtrack is beautiful and at times incredibly offputting, as an atonal women’s chorus swells, or strange instruments pluck and rattle, setting your nerves on edge.
The period setting has been exhaustively researched, and director/writer Robert Eggers has perfectly recreated a setting that lends itself to horror particularly well.
It’s not a horror movie for everyone, and I wonder if it will catch fire the way that a lot of people seem to think it will – I can’t see a group of people renting it on Redbox and pounding beers while watching it, but I never would have imagined Downton Abbey would blow up the way it did, either. I have LOADS of praise for it, but I won’t say too much just now. But the last ten minutes – SO awesome.
Anyway, I did notice a lot of parallels with my own work. I’ll put them behind a cut to spare people spoilers from the movie, but if you’re not intending on seeing the movie anyway then you might enjoy knowing where there’s overlap – and where there isn’t.
I want to be absolutely clear – I do NOT think that Robert Eggers stole my work. I am 100% sure that Mr. Eggers has never heard of me OR my work, and that the similarities of the works are just a case of concurrent creative evolution – we managed to independently create works with a lot of overlap. If anything, I am hoping that people who might enjoy The Witch would be interested in reading my book, since some of the tropes have already been introduced by the movie, and my book has some VERY different stuff in it.
Also – I started my book in about 2005, and self-published it in 2011, albeit in need of heavy content editing. With the help of some beta-readers, all of whom write or edit for a living, I made some heavy edits and republished the book in 2015.
In both works, a small group of people struggle for life on the edge of a great, dark forest. The people of The Witch are actual Puritans, and spend a great deal of the movie’s dialogue evoking God. They are mistrustful of anything new or unusual, and come down like a load of bricks on things that are outright suspicious.
- The families live in a little cottage with a loft
- The families are comprised of male parent, female parent, a male child, a female protagonist, and male and female twins of a young age.
- The male parent cuts wood
- There is a scene where the father tries to ‘meet his daughter halfway’ in which he basically says he knows she’s guilty of something, and that he would forgive her if she’d just own up to it
- There is a scene where the father loses patience with his daughter and drags her screaming across the dooryard of the house by her collar
- The daughter is considered a witch
- A child disappears into the woods, is written off for dead, and reappears half-mad and covered with scratches
- The daughter, made miserable and isolated by her lot in life, accepts the offer made by a supernatural creature to see the world and become something more than what she was born to
- A sibling becomes aware of another sibling’s sexual development
So a lot of overlap, but when you’re dealing with these kinds of limited tropes, there’s only so many directions the story can go. If you want to tell a haunted house story, it’s going to have certain things in it – the same applies here.
- Although my setting is VERY similar to The Witch’s, it is a high-fantasy setting. The villagers rigidly practice religion, but theirs is a fictional one.
- The family makeup is different. Instead of parents and children, we have Adelaide (the female protagonist), her mother Agatha, her stepfather Amos, her stepbrother Aidan, and her half-siblings Jacob and Anna. Adelaide’s biological father disappeared, and since women are forbidden to have trades, Agatha married Amos to keep house for him. The twins are also younger than the twins that appeared in the movie.
- Instead of witchcraft springing from Satan, witchcraft is attributed to evil forest spirits, trolls, and fairies.
- The closest thing to a ‘witch’ in my book is Granny Broggins, Adelaide’s maternal grandmother, who knows herb-lore and lives in the woods. She’s salty and coarse, and sometimes does more harm than good. She is also something of the village midwife, although the villagers fear and mistrust her.
- There are lots more characters in my book, in the village and elsewhere. The entire story takes place after Adelaide has left the village, and that was a decision on my part because a friend who was beta-reading said the village parts of the book were way too depressing to spend much time there. So I hacked a lot of those parts out and added some new characters in the present that are much more lively and fun.
- Adelaide is not the only POV character – we also have Neville, a drunken tinker and trailmaster with a colorful past. He’s a hired guide to people passing through the Wilder Lands, where he and the others meet Adelaide after getting lost.
So some familiar flavors, some not so familiar. My book was inspired by reading about early attempts by Americans to create utopias in the wilderness, and by reading about things like the Roanoke and Jamestown colonies. And of course the Donner Party, the Salem Witch Trials… I could go on, but I won’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie. I just thought it was interesting how two completely different people can create such similar content, without ever meeting.
Have a great day!