'The Witch:' Dishing With The Film's Star And A Head Of The Satanic Temple
When I first saw the film The Witch a month ago, I loved it—I love horror movies. But I really connected with the overall theme. I saw it as a feminist film about a girl rebelling against constraints that she didn’t agree with, and discovering the art of thinking for herself and satisfying her own desires.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Thomasin, the daughter of a farmer in 17th century New England who is accused of being a witch. I’ve known her since we went on an eventful West Coast road trip together last August (our car got stuck in quicksand outside of Joshua Tree, and we spent the whole night trying to dig it out). So when A24, the production company behind The Witch, approached me about helping them and the Detroit Chapter of the Satanic Temple host three screenings of the film in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin, each followed by performance art rituals, I was intrigued.
After A24 gave Jex Blackmore, one of two national heads of The Satanic Temple, a viewing of the film, she really went for it, organizing incredible events. I wasn’t able to make it to the Austin screening, but between New York and Los Angeles, my friends and I witnessed a theremin performance, a candle-lit ceremony involving naked performers bathing each other in milk, and a secret BDSM chamber in room 304 of The Jane Hotel. I was constantly impressed with Blackmore’s drive and creativity, and her cadre of performers and weirdos. I spoke to both her and Taylor-Joy about their impressions of the film, and its feminist message.
I felt a personal connection to Thomasin, Anya’s character, who was treated as an outcast and persecuted by her family, but in the end stands up for herself, like, “Fuck you guys,” and does what she wants to do. Do you think of The Witch as a feminist movie? Are you a feminist?
Blackmore: I would call myself a feminist. The concept of “feminism” is sometimes applied in the same way that “witch” had been used as a pejorative term to ostracize women who think for themselves. I think the film has the capacity to be a feminist movie. There are elements that speak to liberation, and the film is critical of a system that is oppressive. It’s important to remember that there is no need for feminism if people are treated fairly; feminism is the product of our unjust society.
“The claim of female power is something that people aren’t comfortable with.”
Taylor-Joy: I am lucky in the sense that I don’t know why, but people have just cast me as a survivor, and I have a real connection to that. I’ve always felt like I didn’t fit in, and it was only during shooting The Witch that I was like, Oh, this is where I belong. This is my place, and these are my people, and this is my tribe. And I think—no spoilers—that Thomasin kind of gets that in the end.
Of course I’m a feminist. I think it’s really odd how a lot of people are very afraid of using that word. But that just comes from ignorance, and not being aware that the word itself means equality for men and women. I know for a fact that Rob [Eggers, the director] did not set out to make a feminist movie. He set out to make an archetypal New England horror story, but feminism just bursts out of this picture. I’m so glad people are having this connection to it, and so is Rob. The two of us are just incredibly proud that people are talking about this. The claim of female power is something that people aren’t comfortable with. It’s important, and it should be a part of the discussion.
What is your personal connection to The Witch?
Blackmore: I identified with Thomasin, a character who is somewhat of an outsider and forced into liberating herself. She takes the role of a rebel because of unnatural restrictions placed upon her. The Satanic movement falls in line with that metaphor.
What’s your favorite movie?
Blackmore: Wild at Heart.
What is your favorite scary movie?
Taylor-Joy: I’ve actually only ever seen The Witch and The Blair Witch Project, and I actually didn’t like The Blair Witch Project because it scared me. So I guess I’m gonna have to be super lame. I did watch It Follows, and I thought it was amazing.
What is the meaning behind the ritual at each event?
Blackmore: Each event has a theme. Each one is personal, and each is a road to discovering Satanism. The themes are:
Awakening: The awakening of one’s primal urges. Realizing and recognizing your own oppression in many ways, and your uniqueness as a human being.
Rebel: Rebel against tradition as a way to liberate yourself.
Gathering: Convocation of the godless. Gathering of like-minded individuals. Advocate for change. Advocate for your own rights.
Ascend: Taking action, and elevating your cause to one that is sustainable.
Anya, what was your first reaction after reading the film’s script?
Taylor-Joy: I hadn’t read that many scripts when I got this one. I read it and my body just like collapsed on itself. I couldn’t understand what it was about the script that had gripped me so completely. I sat down and I thought about it, and I was like, it’s pretty weird that the language doesn’t feel like a barrier to me. I never questioned the fact that it was in Jacobian English. I just thought it was so lyrical and beautiful and wonderful. And then second of all, I [thought that] this fear doesn’t feel like my fear. This feels ancestral, this feels primal, this feels like it’s been handed down from generations.
When I went to do the audition, it was the first time I was really nervous about something, because I’m pretty laissez-faire. I will say that having made a couple of movies now, I know that that’s the feeling that I get when I need and I am compelled to tell a story and something is meant for me. And The Witch definitely was.
And what’s your next project?
Taylor-Joy: I’m about to start filming in New York. It’s this movie called Bury that I’m very, very excited about. I’m also just excited to be in New York. I care about New York very deeply and I share a deep bond, and so I’m excited to go back there.
Check out The Witch, in theaters now.
All photos taken exclusively for Milk by Lyz Olko
Stay tuned to Milk for more feminist horror.