On August 19, a Twitter account called “Black Phillip” — its avatar the illustrated eye of a darkly colored goat, squinting with a pretty unmistakable rage — tweeted for the first time. For a goat, the tweet made sense:
Bah bah bah— Black Phillip (@BlackPhillip) August 19, 2015
Since then, @BlackPhillip has tweeted 14 more times, including retweets of @TheSassyGoats and @tbhjustgoats, a pair of accounts with nearly 400,000 combined followers. Both are evidence of a bizarre shift in the internet landscape that’s taken place over the last couple years, a shift of such magnitude that The Wall Street Journal, which isn’t exactly BuzzFeed, thought it's worth noting: “The World of Internet Memes Embraces the Year of the Goat.”
@BlackPhillip does not have 400,000 followers — it (he?) barely has 100 — but its style is similar to the web-native goat accounts peddling weirdo slang and hooky Vines. Black Phillip doesn’t like sheep. “How good is goat cheese? sorta spensy but I get it for free cuz I'm a goat LOLZ,” Black Phillip writes, speaking like an adult being paid to pretend to be a teenager on the internet, which is how most people on Twitter speak. “a mini me,” says Black Philip, captioning a Vine of a goat jumping around. (If you’ve spent any time on the internet in the last two months, you probably recognize the “it me” trend.
As an account, @BlackPhillip shows obvious signs of familiarity with web culture, a constantly changing and nebulous concept that, horror-movie-like, seems to consume and subsume every joke, idea, and reference that anyone makes online. Interesting, then, to read its bio: “Billy goat. Star of @TheWitchMovie.”
There's a good chance you haven't heard of The Witch — or THE VVITCH, depending on how faithfully you want to honor the film’s own obsession with period-specific accuracy. Helmed by first-time writer-director Robert Eggers, who made his name as a production designer, The Witch is being talked about, along with It Follows, as the year’s breakthrough horror movie; after its rapturous reception at Sundance, nouveau-indie kingmaker A24 paid $1.5 million for distribution rights. As our Bilge Ebiri wrote in his review, “The Witch is a very tense, frightening movie that places you firmly in the world of early Puritan settlers — a place of terrors both imagined and real, where freedom is a concept more paralyzing than repression and abasement.” The movie does, in fact, feature a goat.
There are three types of horror movies being released right now. The first you might call the Blumhouses: Quick and dirty, these films are often made as found footage or in a similarly inexpensive style, then released into theaters, where their low budgets make them easily profitable (and of varying quality). Blumhouse Productions, which essentially kick-started the trend with Paranormal Activity, funds the bulk of them: Think Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, their sequels, and so on.
The second you could call artisanal horror, though that sounds potentially derogative, and I don’t mean it to be. It’s more about the aesthetic and sensibilities: It’s horror made for horror fans, by horror fans, with artful direction, clever writing, and a deep awareness of tradition. It Follows fits into this category, as does You’re Next, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s slasher from 2013, and Ti West’s The Sacrament. (Both You’re Next and The Sacrament feature Joe Swanberg in starring roles, and The Sacrament takes the form of a fictional Vice documentary.)
The third type encompasses The Witch, and it’s the rarest form of horror being made these days: slow, deliberate, and thematically overwhelming, the kind of movie that owes its debt to Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. Eggers won the directing award at Sundance for a reason, and its snapping-up by A24, which is better known for brainy fare like Ex Machina and The End of the Tour, is no coincidence. This is horror as pure cinema, art as much of a priority as scaring the viewer.
Which makes @BlackPhillip all the more interesting. Reps from A24 would “neither confirm nor deny” that they were behind @BlackPhillip, but the distributor’s Twitter, a web-savvy account in its own right, has been signal-boosting nearly every @BlackPhillip tweet since its inception a couple weeks ago. Tonally, the only way @BlackPhillip could be more different than The Witch would be if it were, like, cheering for the New York Yankees, or tweeting at celebrities. (Oh, wait: It is!) You can rest assured that the filmic Black Phillip is decidedly not dazzling the Puritans with hot memes.
The difference between these two vibes is vast, if not contradictory: The internet is nothing if not a million-car pileup of contrasting inflections. Who knows how Eggers, respected for his care with details, feels about the goat videos; questions to his agent were not returned by press time. But it does belie a sense of humor about The Witch that seems to have arisen with the web-centric nature of the independent community in 2015.
With the majority of festival discussion having moved online from the pages of Variety and the New York Times (and New York Magazine!), even movies that play it straight are starting to match the language of the world they’re being born into. A mainstream Oscar bid like Joy can still truck in the hyperearnestness of TV commercials, but that wouldn’t be a natural fit for a smaller indie like The Witch. In that way, @BlackPhillip, despite its enormous stylistic variation from the film, still feels akin to it, or at least to its metanarrative. The Witch might take place in 1600s New England, but you’ve still got to sell it to people on Twitter.