The Witch Blu-ray review
It is New England in the 1630s, not long after the settlement of Plymouth. William and his family have been accused of “prideful conceit” and so banished from his community. They travel until they reach a plot on which to stay. When they arrive, the clan stares into the forest, ominously off in the distance.
They are alone. There is, in addition to William (Ralph Ineson, who has appeared on GAME OF THRONES and in the HARRY POTTER series), matriarch Katherine (Kate Dickie, FOR THOSE IN PERIL), oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, in a stellar nuanced performance), son Caleb, twins Mercy and Jonas, and newborn Samuel. Thomasin delights in the presence of Samuel, playing peekaboo for his amusement. When she uncovers her eyes and belts “Boo!” the first and second times, Samuel is tickled. The third time, he is gone.
William is certain that Samuel has met a fate that could either be a wolf or his own hunger. This, we are shown, is not the case. Their life, he knows, must continue. On a hunting trip, Caleb wonders if Samuel, who had yet to be baptized, is in Hell. He asks, “What wickedness hath he done?”
Perhaps Samuel has done nothing that can be deemed wicked. Who, then, has? Is it William, solely responsible for his family’s banishment into an isolated farm? Or Thomasin, who reveals her regrets as she prays above for forgiveness? Or the twins, who claim they can speak to the family goat, Black Phillip (who has since turned into something of a minor pop culture cult figure)? This is a mystery that carries throughout THE WITCH, although the viewer may be cautious to want to discover a solution.
THE WITCH is an unsettling film that takes partial inspiration, according to writer/director Robert Eggers, from Stanley Kubricl’s THE SHINING, Ingmar Bergman’s CRIES AND WHISPERS and 1922’s HAXAN. There are also, it would seem, hints of Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY and Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, although for reasons that should probably go unsaid.
Eggers (who won the Best Director prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival; he is slated to direct a version of NOSFERATU) has established a certain tone that a film such as THE WITCH requires. There are no spooks per-se (especially not cheap ones triggered by music cues). Rather, Eggers creates an atmosphere that is instantly foreboding; it is this, accompanied by some genuinely disturbing images, that unsettles the viewer, who may at various times close their eyes or ears for various reasons, all linked to the touch of Eggers.
The film builds on themes and moments of sin, confession and regret, involving characters who may or may not understand the intentions and consequences. Some have seen THE WITCH as a warning to not shun your religious responsibilities. It can be depicted as this, sure. But it would appear more so that the setting, the era and the like serve to hide elements from the audience that they might otherwise discover in a film taking place in a more modern time. That we likely know so little of this world (outside of what we were taught in high school, chiefly through The Crucible) adds to the ambiguities that drive the horror in THE WITCH.
THE WITCH is intelligent in how it goes about its mood. It trusts its audience to question and to be patient. With this come the rewards in the form of one the finest horror films of the decade.
Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This video transfer has a soft, natural look that lends to the feel of the film. Additionally, details are strong (from the family’s clothing to Black Phillip’s hair) and the black levels are deep.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English and Spanish. This audio transfer is highly effective and, while far from abrasive, adds greatly to the subtly spooky atmosphere of the film.
Audio commentary with director Robert Eggers: Eggers offers an excellent commentary in which he discusses the production of THE WITCH and some of the challenges that come with a debut.
THE WITCH: A Primal Folktale (8:28): Eggers and a portion of the cast touch on various aspects of THE WITCH, including the inspirations, themes and costumes.
Salem Panel Q&A with Cast and Crew (27:59): Eggers and more (including, perhaps curiously, an author and a historian) sit down for a Q&A in Salem, Massachusetts on the eve of the film’s release.