The Real-Life Inspiration For The Witch, This Year's Most Disturbing Horror Film So Far

Feb 22 2016 - 5:35pm

There are more than a handful of new horror movies on the horizon [1], but one of the more hotly anticipated releases is called The Witch. The film bills itself as "a New England folktale," and follows a family who has fallen victim to evil, malevolent forces. The result is a gripping, disturbing examination of witchcraft in the colonial era. To prepare for the film's release, we took a look at a history of witches in pop culture [2], and we also did a little digging to figure out which components are historically accurate. Through the press notes and a little research of our own, we've uncovered all the real aspects of The Witch, from its depiction of witchcraft to the sets, dialogue, and more. Keep reading to see what we discovered.

The Film's Dialogue Is Damn Close to How These People Would Have Actually Sounded

The film's director, Robert Eggers, referred to a wide variety of literature during the early stages of his research process. The period sources included pamphlets on witchcraft, court documents, the Geneva Bible, and even everyday Puritan diaries. This means much of the dialogue was lifted almost word-for-word from the aforementioned sources and incorporated into the film.

The Events of the Film Were Inspired by Actual Accounts of Witchcraft

Eggers learned of one old story in particular that seemed to make a major impact. The events describe a Massachusetts teenager named Elizabeth Knapp, who "became prone to seizures and fits . . . When the local pastor came to investigate her predicament, the young woman flew into hysterics, prompting the religious official to conclude she was possessed by the devil."

Eggers notes that he explored both versions of witch lore: those in fairytales, and those in the actual accounts from the time period. This led to a blurred depiction of the phenomenon, one that mixes all of the information into one terrifying piece. What's clear is that the film's plot is very much rooted in the canonical tales of what it means to be a witch, both fictional and nonfictional.

Every Last Period Detail Was Studied in an Effort to Bring the Film to Life

As part of his research for the film, Eggers gained access to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts; it's a full re-creation of Plymouth Colony in 1627. He was afforded the opportunity to examine the plantation, the colonial village, and the library. He reportedly "studied the vernacular architecture and details of the period, right down to the chimneys and dirt floors of rural dwellings where people like William [Ralph Ineson] and his family might have lived." That's dedication.

Some of the Subject Matter Was Taken From Real Figures in the Salem Witch Trials

Of course, there's plenty of material to sift through when it comes to witchcraft in the colonial era, especially in the context of the Salem witch trials. Two very notable figures extensively documented accounts of witchcraft during this time: Cotton Mather and Samuel Willard, who wrote The Wonders of the Invisible World [3] and Groton in Witchcraft Times [4] respectively. The books offer an in-depth look at the persecution of witches in New England at the time, and both were consulted when writing the movie. These men don't appear as characters in the film, but you may remember that Cotton Mather appears as a character on the TV show Salem [5].

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