Synopsis: A scary folk tale set in 1600’s New England. A girl on the cusp of womanhood deals with her crazy family and — possibly — a witch.
The Witch, a taut psychological thriller written and directed by Robert Eggers, is a horror fairy tale that sends the audience into a perilous wood on the look-out for a witch. But who is the witch– is there a witch at all? And, more importantly, who is Black Phillip?
Black Phillip, simply put, is a captivating presence. Full of star power, he owns every scene. And when he’s not on-screen, you’ll be wondering: What’s Black Phillip getting up to?
Black Phillip’s tale is one of woe and perseverance. You see, Black Phillip is the captive of a joyless and highly dysfunctional family. I should probably mention that Black Phillip is a goat. But not just any goat. He is a few hundred pounds of magnificent billy goat, with gleaming black hair, sturdy cloven hooves and veritably crowned with glorious looped horns.
We are not privy to Black Phillip’s back story, but first encounter him at the family’s new digs by the edge of a dark and forbidding forest. The poor family is isolated out in the middle of nowhere thanks to the bungling patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson). The fool is so strident and self-righteous that he gets ex-communicated from their religious town. Apparently early 1600’s New England Puritans aren’t pious and severe enough for him. So off he goes with the wife and kids: dour wife Catherine (Kathie Dickie), confused pubescent son Caleb, obedient teen daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), scampy elementary-age twins Mercy and Jonas and a sweet baby.
Black Phillip is forced along for the ride, alongside a nanny goat who seems clueless as to the family’s misfortunes. He puts up with a lot at the homestead, including the boredom of the frontier, a drafty shed and babysitting the twins. But he’s really perturbed by the father who’s always purposefully striding around while he fails to provide for the family or do anything right. While browsing the property, Black Phillip sometimes stops to glare at him: he knows a real male when he sees one, and this guy is an epic failure.
But Black Phillip doesn’t have a lot of free time to hate-watch the man because he is often busy minding the twins, who insist that the goat speaks to them. The twins
traipse around the cabin whipping themselves into near hysteria singing their tunes about Black Phillip. Here’s one: Black Phillip, Black Phillip, A crown grows out his head…Black Phillip, Black Phillip, To nanny queen is wed.
Meanwhile brother Caleb is be-stirred by hormones and is reduced to stealing glances at sister Thomasin’s cleavage. Thomasin tries to keep her sh** together by doing typical teenager-y things like milking the goat, listening to hours of dad’s sermonizing and checking her cellphone. Oops, not the last one.
The only bright light is the family’s baby whom we glimpse being watched over, not by Black Phillip, who is busy with the twins, but by Thomasin. She and baby, together at the edge of the forest, play peek-a-boo. Well, let the horror begin, because a second after Thomasin covers her eyes, the baby has vanished. Panic sweeps through Thomasin and the family. There is seemingly no explanation. Soon, they seize on an entirely reasonable conclusion: a witch from the woods has stolen baby. Ok…
Fear and madness lunge at the family. Fortunately, Black Phillip is unfazed by recent events and keeps a calm head. In the absence of any real parenting, he fills the gap, keeping the twins occupied in his shed. One day, Thomasin milks the nanny goat while Black Phillip lounges nearby, nibbling on his hay. He exhibits the patience of a saint while the twins prance around him and chant his name in his ear. The feisty twins tell Thomasin that the goat has told the little girl that she can do what she wants. (Goat parenting philosophy is big on freedom and fun for the kids.) Then the boy announces, ” Black Phillip saith you are wicked.”
Things go from bad to worse and before you know it the dad is wrestling Black Phillip and bellowing at Thomasin, “Did ye make an unholy bond with the goat?!” Black Phillip releases his tension (caused by living with the loser patriarch) by rearing up on his hind legs and doing a great side gallop for all to marvel upon.
So… is there a witch or not? You’ll have to see for yourself. Or you could ask Black Phillip; he knows.
P.S. The breakaway star of the movie, Black Phillip, is brilliantly played by a goat named Charlie who lives in Canada. Charlie reportedly took a dislike to actor Ralph Ineson (the patriarch). Ineson claims that Charlie attacked him. The goat’s acting coach, Anna Kilch, recalls Charlie’s perfect work and deems him “fantasic.”
Cut to the Chase: It’s all about the goat, but there’s some subtext about fear of women’s sexuality.
Comedy Highlight: Black Phillip knocks the patriarch on his butt.