The Film (4/5)
In the last week I've watched what amounts to the 2 best new horror films I've seen in 2016. Both coincidentally deal with themes of witchcraft, but they deal with them from different angles. The first is Anna Biller's delightful technicolor throwback The Love Witch, and now I have finally gotten to Robert Egger's dark period piece The Witch, which made waves in the horror community earlier this year.
The Witch follows a family of Calvinist, who are banished from their New England plantation community sometime around 1630. The reason given in passing is that the family patriarch, William, is guilty of the sin of pride. The family travel away from the community, and finally settle down on a patch of land just outside a dark foreboding forest. Within a short period of time darkness begins to descend upon the family. One morning, Thomasin, the eldest daughter of William and Katherine take the baby of the family of the family, Samuel, out to a field to play a game of "peekaboo" while her eyes are covered the young Samuel is snatched by a witch, and never seen again. This incident sets off a series of events that bring the family in deeper and more extreme conflict with one another as seemingly supernatural influences begin to tear them apart.
The Witch might be one of the best horror films I've seen in this decade. It's a slow, subtle, quite mature affair, whose terror while certainly within the boundaries of the supernatural, falls more in the more human side of the horror experience. The film straddles the boundary between a period drama and traditional horror. It’s horror moments being all the more horrific, because of the substantial human element behind them. The story of the film is quite simple, but not entirely straightforward. This is a film that definitely rewards multiple viewings as certain elements of the plot are revealed via subtle visual queues that might not be immediately apparent to first time viewers.
Egger's vision of 1630's New England is not to far removed from other cinematic depictions of the time, but is much darker in keeping with the horror tone of the piece. That being said, though the supernatural plays a strong element of the film, the film's visuals are more grounded in the reality of the era, making the more fantastic elements have a more of a surrealist edge when contrasting with the dark foreboding surroundings. The soundtrack which plays a bit more on the ambient noise end of the spectrum at times, contributes to the overall creepiness of the film, and the film is endlessly suspenseful all the way through to it's bizarre, but not entirely unexpected conclusion.
Lionsgate presents The Witch in an excellent 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer preserving the films OAR. The Blu-ray looks quite good, with excellent fine detail, deep blacks, and accurate flesh tones.
The audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English that was excellent. The dialogue, score, and ambient effects come through quite solidly, and helped contribute to the dark ambiance of the film.
Lionsgate have put a decent slate of extras together for their Blu-ray release of The Witch. The Blu-ray has an audio commentary with directory Eggers, a documentary called the Witch: A Primal Folklore, a Q &A from a Salem screening, and a gallery of designs of the film.
The Witch took the paranoid of John Carpenter's the Thing, and channeled it through the the worldview of Ken Russell's The Devils, but set it in rural 1630's New England. The film is a tight, creepy, and suspenseful affair, that will require some serious rewatching to fully appreciate the depth of the piece. Luckily, we now have a Blu-ray to do just that. The Blu-ray looks and sound incredible, and fortunately has a nice slate of extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.