Robert Eggers is obsessed with the past.
The director behind A24's The Witch, which will be released in theaters across North America on Feb. 19, spent quite some time thinking about the past when he was working on his directorial debut.
The film, set in 1600s New England, focuses on an isolated, faith-driven family that slowly star to descend into madness as strange occurrences begin to happen around it. With pacing similar to last year's It Follows and clever callbacks to films like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, The Witch has guaranteed itself a spot as one of the best horror movies in years.
For Eggers, a native of New England himself (although he now resides in Brooklyn with his wife), returning to the backwoods that are littered with folktales of the paranormal and memories of the Salem witch trials was the clearest decision he could make.
When he was figuring out what to base his first movie on, Eggers knew he wanted to return to the place that he knew best and the subject matter that he dreamed about for years.
"Some of the stuff you see in the movie are things I actually dreamt," Eggers told Polygon after a screening of his movie at the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco. "Caleb [one of the children in the movie] finding the witch's house in the woods was something that I had dreamed before."
The Witch has guaranteed itself a spot as one of the best horror movies in years.
Eggers said shooting a scene like that was particularly strange because he leaned so heavily on drawing from his dreams that it felt like he was reliving certain moments from his childhood.
"I remember talking to Jerry, our director of photography, and saying, 'This is all so odd,'" Eggers said. "It wasn't just something that I had dreamed as a child, but it was something that I could recall so vivdly."
When asked if being able to capture those memories, recreate them and explore them through a different lens was at all therapeutic, Eggers laughed, but didn't brush off an answer.
"It's almost embarrassing to say yes, but I realized through doing these interviews that ever since I shot The Witch, I haven't had any more of these types of dreams. That part of my past seems to have quieted."
Eggers reiterated that it wasn't something he set out to do. He wasn't looking to exorcise any demons, but was just looking to explore a subject he had become fascinated with. To make the movie feel as authentic as possible, Eggers immersed himself in the world of 1600s New England. He researched the subject and consulted with academics when he had questions. The movie itself is laced with Old English dialogue and actual text from the time period, which Eggers came across in his research on witches in America.
While it sounds like a lot to tackle, Eggers said that exploring the past was one of his biggest passions, and once he had made his mind up that this was the movie he was going to make, he needed to know all about the world he was going to create.
It's something he's doing again now with his newest project. Although Eggers couldn't give away too many details, he did confirm that he was working on a movie set in the Middle Ages.
"With the exception of the Age of Enlightenment, there's no part of history that I wouldn't want to explore," Eggers said. "I don't need to be enlightened. But exploring history and building a story there has always been interesting to me."
Another area that holds a special place in Eggers' heart is independent film. The Witch, while opening in 1,500 theaters, is definitely an independent film through and through. Eggers said that he loves the creative control he gets with independent movies, as well as being able to focus intensely on the narrative.
"It's clear that superheroes are the new pantheon of pagan gods and a religion that people are very devoted to"
"With films like this, I get to decide what stays and what goes," Eggers said. "Having a small cast to work with is also something I generally prefer."
Despite Eggers' love for the independent scene, he's not unaware of the trend occurring in Hollywood right now. Just take a look at directors like Rian Johnson, who struck a chord with his independent film Brick before moving onto Looper and then being asked to helm the eighth Star Wars film.
"I won't say I'd never do a movie like that," Eggers said, referring to Star Wars. "But it's just not something that I'm overly interested in doing. That wouldn't be fun for me."
Eggers added that he feels the same way about Marvel and DC films. The director acknowledged that's where the money is and that those are the types of movies that studios want to make, but said that they bored him.
"It's clear that superheroes are the new pantheon of pagan gods and a religion that people are very devoted to, but I'm just not very interested."
For now, Eggers is happy being a star in the world of independent film, being compared to a young Stanley Kubrick by producer Chris Columbus.
While Eggers' doesn't see himself in that light, he's gracious for the warm reception his debut feature has received from both press and the small audience that has already seen the film. For him, just being given the green light on his next project and being able to have control over it is a dream come true.
Considering The Witch and Eggers' fresh approach to filmmaking, it's clear the director isn't going away anytime soon.