That The Witch is a nightmarish exercise in paranoia has been much discussed, and deservedly so, ever since writer/director Robert Eggers won a directing award at Sundance last January. What’s gotten perhaps less attention is what a meticulously-crafted history buff’s wet dream it also is. In a film set in a pre-witch trial 17th century Massachusetts colony — a time period so naturally nightmarish that it lends itself easily to horror — the film’s dialogue is delivered in all its authentic thees, ye’s, and goodlies. It takes some getting used to, but there’s also a rhythm and a poetry to it, like a slightly more intelligible Shakespeare.
Everything in The Witch, from the spoken dialogue to the sets to the actors themselves — Ralph Ineson especially captures the look of a colonist barely surviving on his own bad farming — is so painstakingly realized that I half expected Eggers to be some greying man in smart eyeglasses and a tweedy suit. For him to look like a history professor, basically. Instead, Eggers, who grew up in New Hampshire hearing all kinds of colonial witch stories, turned out to be a younger guy in boots and a flannel shirt, with a beard and neatly trimmed rockabilly hair. More reminiscent of a bartender in a nouveau cocktail bar that smelled of pine than a professor.
The lesson: you don’t need leather elbow patches to care deeply about historical accuracy. With The Witch being re-released nationwide this weekend for a limited time, I got to pick Eggers’ brain about the lengths he went to recreate a dead vernacular, and why.