New Horror Movie 'The Witch' Was Inspired by Folklore and Real-Life Tales of Possession

Poster for The Witch

Fans of the horror genre might like to check out The Witch, a much-anticipated horror movie set in 17th century America, which hits theatres later this week (trailer below). The director of the movie, Robert Eggers (who won a best director award at Sundance last year), spoke with io9 about the occult and folkloric themes and real-life history that inspired the film:

“If there’s any genre that this film fits into more than anything, even more than horror, it’s a fairy tale,” he admits, adding that “folk tale” simply sounded better as part of the subtitle. But he had a specific kind of fairy tale in mind—and it’s not the happily-ever-after type. “Pre-Disney, and even pre-Grimm, fairy tales aren’t moralistic and two-dimensional; they’re dark and enigmatic explorations of family dynamics. That’s a general interpretation, at least.”

He elaborates on this idea. “In the early modern period, the real world and the fairy tale world—for everyone but the extreme intelligentsia—were the same thing. People really believed that the old lady down the lane that they were calling a ‘witch’ was actually a fairy-tale ogress, capable of doing the most horrible things. It was very easy to dig into that and be obsessed with trying to bring the audience back to the 17th century and show them a Puritan’s nightmare. I wanted to bring them back to the time when a witch was a really powerful thing, and not a cheesy plastic Halloween costume.”

...The writings from the period were key source materials for Eggers’ script; he looked through such records as diaries, journals, and court papers. “As I was reading, I would find sentences and phrases that worked and I would write them down constantly. Then I would organize them into different situations where they might be used,” he says. “Earlier drafts of the script were these monstrous, cannibalized versions of other people’s stuff in a weird collage, which then got shaped into something that was more mine. However, there are some things that are absolutely intact. A lot of the things the children say when they’re possessed are supposedly things that children actually said when they were possessed, and so on.”