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The Witch Writer-Director Robert Eggers Talks Horror, Hollywood, And The Home Alone Connection

In our review of The Witch prior to TIFF, we raved that the film’s “slow, ominous burn is considerably more unsettling than any jump scare or gruesome fatality that passes for horror these days.” Drawing comparisons to fright classics from Häxan to The Shining, Robert Eggers’ striking debut has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the genre since it debuted 13 months ago at the Sundance Film Festival.

However, it turns out Eggers is a little reticent about the whole horror thing. While The Witch is an instant classic of the genre, its writer-director doesn’t want to be shackled by fan expectations. In fact, he’s leaving horror behind for his next film (The Knight) and he claims his involvement with a rumoured Nosferatu remake is far from a sure thing. (Still, it’s hard to think of a more suitable director.)

In a brief chat last week, we talked to him about horror, Hollywood, and The Witch’s unlikely saviour: Home Alone director Chris Columbus.

Space: I read that you’ve had a lifelong obsession with witches? Are you able to pinpoint why that is or where it comes from?

Robert Eggers: You’d have to talk to my therapist about that. I’ve had very archetypal witch dreams from childhood through into adulthood. Actually, doing these interviews, I realize that I haven’t had any since I made the movie.

Were there any modern parallels you had in mind when you were writing the script for The Witch?

Whatever you want to find is cool. People were talking about Syrian refugees and anything else. That’s perfectly fine with me, but the film attempts to capture some things that are good about fairy tales and folktales. The good thing about those is that they’re just kind of timeless and human, so they’re always going to resonate.

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Working in period seems like a real challenge for independent filmmakers. What gave you confidence that you could pull it off?

The past is where I like to hang out. It’s where I spend all my time. There was no anxiety about it. All my short films are period films. Anything that’s currently on my slate—or my imaginary slate—is all in the past.

What’s your relationship with modern technology?

I don’t own a cell phone. I don’t own a computer. I don’t own a TV. I don’t have electricity. [laughs] No, I’m a bit of a luddite, but I’m pretty much like everyone else. But I don’t use social media. I enjoy writing by candlelight on my MacBook.

I’m curious about the involvement of Chris Columbus. He’s not usually associated with dark, unsettling films. How did he get involved?

Chris and his daughter Eleanor have a company called Maiden Voyage that works with first and second-time directors to help get their films made. They also worked on a film called Mediterranea that’s really excellent. Basically, we got boned by a financier as we were looking to get the film finished—we didn’t have all the money—and Chris and Eleanor came in and saved the day. Chris has been a huge advocate for the film. I’m really grateful to him. He’s a really smart, awesome, cool person. I’m also very grateful to Eleanor, who knew about the script and brought it to his attention.

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It seems like Hollywood has a hard time giving horror filmmakers opportunities outside the genre. With all this acclaim, have you been approached with non-horror projects?

Yeah, I’ve been approached for all kinds of stuff and the next thing I’m doing is not horror. It is, I’m sure you’re shocked to hear, in the past.

What’s your relationship with horror? Are you a big fan or do you just see it as an avenue to explore your other interests?

It’s so weird talking about genre lately, all these interviews with people splitting hairs about the definition of horror and psychological suspense and stuff. I find it really tiring. People who say horror needs to be a certain kind of thing with jump scares and gore or whatever—I have no interest in that. I really don’t. If that’s horror then Edgar Allan Poe is not horror and the things I think are good horror are not horror. I’m more interested in books about what is dark in human nature than shining a quick flashlight on it and running away. I’m more interested in religion, mythology, folklore, ghost stories, and gothic fiction than I am in bad horror movies or new movies that try to replicate the tone old bad horror movies in a kind of meta way. I just don’t care about that. That said, I grew up on Hammer horror movies and Universal monster movies. Some of that stuff I have a soft spot for.

Lastly, I’m curious about The Satanic Temple and their endorsement of the film. What does that mean to you?

It’s nice to have fans. That’s all I like to say about that.

The Witch is in theatres now. We suggest that you buy a ticket immediately, but if you must know more, watch the trailer below.

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