The Witch isn't just an achievement in horror filmmaking; it's an impressive piece of cinema in general. Directed by Robert Eggers, the movie takes place in 17th century New England, where the world of folklore and reality have blurred into a society ripe with talk of devils, demons and evil in all forms.
The movie focuses on a Puritan family that has been banished from the town plantation because of the patriarch's crime of "prideful conceit." It's during this time when the family begins to experience issues of the supernatural — but whether these forces of evil at work are real or just the byproduct of their own paranoia and twisted faith is another question entirely.
The Witch is the rare horror movie to break through and become a viable piece of modern independent moviemaking. Eggers directs this story as a slow burn — it's not about abject gore, jump cuts or other genre cliches. The horror is as psychological as it is physical, with an emphasis on mood, atmosphere and setting.
Eggers has a minimalist style that values emotion and character over plot twists and set pieces. For 90 minutes, the film just oozes mood, and a lot of the credit has to go to cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who makes the drab, damp, gray New England scenery somehow pop off the screen. The movie hinges on its believability — that this is a world where a witch is just a reality of daily life. Eggers achieves this believability from both a story standpoint and through the film's overall production design, which gives viewers a grounded, haunted realism for the characters to explore.
Thankfully, the Blu-ray transfer here is absolutely beautiful. You might not think of grays and browns as particularly vibrant, but it's vital to the flavor of the movie, and none of Blaschke's mood gets lost in translation. The barren, twisted woods that the movie takes place in almost act like a character in and of itself. It's a desolate world — one that has left this family behind to fend for itself against an evil it can't fathom. That's just why The Witch succeeds — by placing you in this unforgiving, malicious world that is somehow all too real.
Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson highlight the cast, as Thomasin and William, respectively. The growing fear and paranoia that overtakes the family is epitomized in its conflict — all while Black Philip, the scariest onscreen goat you've ever seen, looms large over the proceedings.
Seriously, it's a pretty chilling goat; even the cast and crew got spooked by Black Philip.
The Witch is a movie that meditates on our faith, our fears and our families, and in the end, you might not be certain what's believable in this world. It's a challenging horror film that pushes the genre and doesn't cater to cliches.
The Special Features
This Blu-ray isn't packed with extras, but what's there does add to the historical background of the film. In The Witch: A Primal Folktale, the cast and crew talk about the making of the film and what it was like working with a first-time director. However, it's Eggers' insights that prove to be the most interesting, as he goes into the historical context of witchcraft and folklore at the time.
This point is further expanded upon during the Q&A special feature, where Eggers talks more about the Salem Witch Holocaust and how his research and knowledge of the subject made The Witch more authentic than a typical Hollywood production.
For the sake of realism, the crew even went to pains to make sure that the fence posts used in the movie were the same types that would have been used during that 17th century time period. As Eggers points out during the Q&A, "The more of those things I let slide, the more it falls apart. And the more that the specificity is not there, the more you can't believe in this."
It's a small anecdote that wholly encapsulates the drive toward historical accuracy on the set of The Witch. Taken as a whole, these special features perfectly illustrate the difference between a movie like this and the countless other horror movies that end up in the bargain bin.
Aside from those documentaries, there's the commentary and some production artwork to give you a better look at the illustrated designs before they made it to the screen. There aren't a wealth of extras on The Witch Blu-ray, but they're understated and smartly done, much like the movie itself.
If you saw the movie, the Blu-ray is a pretty obvious recommendation. The transfer is crisp and beautiful, and the extras add more context and historical insights into the film. If you haven't seen the movie yet, there's no reason not to give it a shot. This is the perfect horror movie for people who wouldn't be caught dead watching a horror movie. There's more under the hood of The Witch than some gore and a simple monster tale.