Robert Eggers 'Can't Stand' His Breakout Film The Witch Now

"The Lighthouse" and "The Northman" filmmaker Robert Eggers broke out with "The Witch," a movie most directors would love to have on their resume, especially as their feature-length debut. It's also a film that Eggers admits he really doesn't like to watch now, in the same way that creative folk in any field tend to be extra hard on their earlier work.

Released in 2016, "The Witch" centers on a 17th-century Puritan family who find themselves in the crosshairs of a baby-napping witch and other dark forces upon being banished from their New England colony. It's an eerie, atmospheric folk-horror film that snagged Eggers a directing award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It would go on to become a box office hit and a critical darling, though audiences were harder on the movie after A24's bait-and-switch trailer marketing left them expecting a very different horror-thriller than the one they got.

Eggers and "The Witch" star Anya Taylor-Joy have since reunited for "The Northman," a Viking revenge epic loosely based on the ancient Norse legend that is said to have inspired "Hamlet." It's a much bigger movie than Eggers' first two outings as a director, with a price tag coming in at a rumored $90 million (as opposed to $4 million for "The Witch") and a general vibe that recalls 1982's "Conan the Barbarian." John Milius' pulpy fantasy-adventure is even cited as one of Eggers' childhood favorites in an interview he gave to The Guardian to promote his Nordic thriller.

Eggers wasn't able to get 'what was in my brain on to the screen'

Reflecting on his past also gave Eggers a chance to talk about "The Witch" and explain why he doesn't look back fondly on his "New England Folktale" (as the film is subtitled):

"Honestly, I can't stand watching 'The Witch' now. It's not that it's bad, and the performances are great, but I was not skilled enough as a filmmaker to get what was in my brain on to the screen. In 'The Lighthouse,' I was able to do that. And 'The Northman,' I'm proud of the movie, but not everything is quite what I hoped it would be. So I would like to do something with the scope and scale that I can actually get what's in my imagination on to the screen."

As someone in a creative field, I empathize with Eggers' inclination to be hard on himself, especially when it comes to his feature debut. Like so many movies by first-time directors (Eggers' short films aside), "The Witch" wears its influences on its sleeves, from Stanley Kubrick's chilling movie adaptation of "The Shining" to Ingmar Bergman's equally-distressing drama "Cries and Whispers." It's also radical but messy in the way it criticizes the Puritan society at the heart of its story and tries to portray its witches and their creepy practices as a startling yet enticing and even preferable alternative lifestyle.

Flaws aside, however, "The Witch" is absolutely worth your time if you've never watched it before and has only gotten better in my memory since the first time I saw it (Eggers' feelings on the matter aside). With positive reactions already coming in for "The Northman" ahead of its arrival in theaters, now's as good a time as any for those who're so inclined to either seek out or revisit Eggers' bewitching (sorry, couldn't resist) horror feature debut.

"The Northman" storms into theaters on April 22, 2022.