Though my glory days of high school history came to a mediocre close many moons ago, I can still rely on Robert Eggers to provide historical pieces of times passed to wet my curious whistle. Gaining popularity for the extensive research that goes into his set designs, Eggers’ obsession with past dialects, designs and philosophies are sternly obvious in his attention to detail.
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘝𝘪𝘵𝘤𝘩 (𝟸𝟶𝟷𝟻) may be overshadowed by his most recent acclamation, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘓𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦 (𝟸𝟶𝟷𝟿) (and rightfully so, that film was as glorious as the treasure its protagonists sought), but as a directorial (feature-length) debut, its subtlety and helplessness began Eggers’ escapade to snatch his audience by their modern collars and drag them through ageless mud.
Set in 1630 New England, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘝𝘪𝘵𝘤𝘩 follows a banished family living as devout Christian’s in the muggy and engulfing wilderness. Their youngest child is snatched by a witch who resides in the forest, and as they pray for his damned and unbaptised soul they are plagued by the horrors of unseen powers.
The family is as vulnerable to their own faith as they are to the wrinkled Satanist who taunts them, their prayers and sins condemning them to mere, feeble pawns in a divine game of chess. Although the witch isn’t as prominent as the title suggests, the ominous stalking of the camera ensures her haunting presence is replaced by conviction; the editing snatches us from hypnotics like an apple from waiting hands.
Eggers’ film conflates this feeling of helplessness with inevitability, Katherine (Katie Dickie) constantly praying as they’re plagued by the contents of the bibles they study. Contrary to being irritating in her excessive turbulence, her volatility is soon to be narration. She embodies the fear of the blind that cursed the devout, taunted by phobia like a crow pecking the breast of a grieving mother. But in Eggers’ fictional world that fear is justified.
As Katherine says, “you cannot escape the woods,” unknowingly wise as the wood eventually drowns them all.
Although films with hambone child actors can be distracting, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘝𝘪𝘵𝘤𝘩 is enticing in its slow-paced capture of religious dogma. Eggers’ attentiveness to history makes our screens not only transparent but engulfing as we fall into his hellish void. A 5-year feat of relentless page surfing, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘝𝘪𝘵𝘤𝘩 (𝟸𝟶𝟷𝟻) adopts the age-old terrors of quicksand:
The harder you struggle, the further you will sink.
It’s a yes from me.