HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Witch
HTS Overall Score:81
I had originally heard amazing things about “The Witch”, but also feared it a bit as it was labeled a puritan horror story. That alone made me slightly nervous as many a religious themed horror movie can mock the religion it’s based off of, or in the case of “The Witch” be a bit of fairytale thrown in to create a creepy supernatural film that uses religion as backdrop rather than actively making fun of the believers. Psychological and creepy, “The Witch” borrows heavily from the over exaggerated myth of the Salem Witch trial days (historically there may have been one or two people burned alive at the stake for being a witch, but it was not some gigantic witch hunt of epic proportions that time has morphed the historical event into being) and brings in some elements of “The Village” and “The Exorcist” to make it an intensely disturbing horror movie that relies more on psychological horror and situational moments to get it’s terror across rather than blood and guts.
The pioneers and puritans that initiated the great move out west from jolly old England is a thing of storybooks and historical accounts, with many of our mental images influenced by the giant buckles and black top hots with flared shirts and pants of the last hundred years artwork. While many of the settlers were puritans, looking to find a way to escape the religious persecution of the Church of England, many were also just plain old settlers looking to make a new life in the new world. However, there is a REASON many of use the term “puritanical” to describe someone or some idea that is a bit rigid and conservative, as there is an element of truth to the claims that early Puritans were a bit more straight laced and hard line about some issues. Even modern church leaders believe there was a sense of guilt and Pharisee like rigidity to some of their decrees. This is also the birth place of the famed Salem Witch Trial myths as well as the terror of Satan bewitching young women and has slowly snowballed over the years into something of legend. Rewind the clock a few hundred years and we have one William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) along with their entire family being banished from a Puritan community for William’s intimated public judgement on their religious beliefs. The movie is sadly a bit short on backstory for this event, but it is intimated and assumed that William is a bit more hardline in his faith than the rest of the village and lacks tact in his disagreements with the rest of the leadership, thus causing the juxtaposition of his religious views and theirs resulting in his family’s banishment.
Fast word just a bit and we see that William and his brood have settled down in a dark and dreary valley, some miles off from the village, and are attempting to live their lives in peace. However, things are not going well as the corn is trash and the fruit rotten in the fields. To make matters worse the youngest babe, Sam, is taken right from under the nose of the oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). The family is grief stricken and desperate to find their baby, but to no avail. The audience is clued into the fact that it is something to do with witchcraft as you are privy to seeing an old naked hag sacrificing Sam and performing a blood ritual in the woods, but the family is unaware of the supernatural element to the story. Soon afterward the oldest male child, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is lost in the woods along with Thomasin, only to come back in seeming shock and under the influence of something. With Caleb’s life on the line, the whole family starts to turn against each other. Brother against sister, Father against child, mother against father and child as the elements of terror shatter their slim hold on reality and fantasies run wild.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=70505[/img]“The Witch” survives mainly on a sense of impending dread. Very little is actually show of the witchcraft and Satanism behind the scenes, but much like “The Village” there is a sense of angst and uneasy tension that just grows throughout the film. Pushing and prodding at every scene, and making you wonder just when something terrible is about to happen. By the end of the film you’re under the assumption that someone “hint hint” is the actual villain, only to sweep away the shroud and realize that the “Witch” is only a piece of the puzzle. A double blind that allows the real villain (whether that be person or ideology) to manipulate things freely and at will.
There is a surprising lack of blood and guts throughout the film. Much of the more horrible pieces of the film (visually speaking) happen in the final act of the movie and except for the scene of a gutted dog, or a dead goat there really isn’t that much SEEN. Instead it’s purely psychological throughout the runtime, pushing the viewer along and making them wonder just WHAT is going on. Personally I felt that Eggers should have kept out the part about their being an ACTUAL witch in the wilderness until the final act, making the audience have to decide if there really is a supernatural element to the film, or whether it’s just a family cracking apart at the seams and fabricating the whole incident. It would have made it a bit more visceral and intellectual, instead of queuing us in to the fact that there IS a witch out in the woods during the first 10 minutes of the film. It’s not a wild complaint, but just something I felt could have allowed the story to have a bit more mystery to it.
Rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=70513[/img]“The Witch” is presented in a rather “retro” aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (maybe to give the film an old timey feeling to it) and filmed on the Arri Alexa digital camera system to provide a very bleak, if not interestingly color graded, Blu-ray for us to enjoy today. The Arri Alexa cameras allow for a very sleek looking image that is devoid of any digital artifacting (besides some mildly washed out blacks combined with the unique color grading which I will address next) that showcases some incredibly detailed shots. The colors for the film seem to have been intentionally drained and left with a very bleak and grim looking picture that relies on different shades of greys. There are little bits of color that bleeds through now and again, especially the yellow tinges of candle lit flames or the deep blood red color of the cloak worn by the witch later on in the film. Shadows are well define, and show off a lot of fine detail throughout the dimly lit film, but there were a few moments of digital noise and washed out detail in a few sequences. It’s nothing the fault of the encode really, as I didn’t noticed compression artifacts or color banding, but the unique color grading makes the film look a bit bleak and dingy despite the incredibly detailed use of some high grade digital cameras.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=70521[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track associated with “The Witch” is not going to be one of those wildly aggressive horror tracks that maximizes jump scares with heavy bass lines, but it is an incredibly nuanced and in depth track which allows for the intense sense of angst to perpetuate as much as the actual storytelling. The vocals are strong and well situated in the front channel, although many people may need to include the use of the provided subtitles as the strong dialect and “King James” style language patters may make it hard for some people to catch all of what is being said. The dynamic range is actually rather intense, as some of the whispers in the film are INCREDIBLY low volume, while then jumping forward to a screeching sound of terror a few minutes later with a more powerful volume level. Bass is intense and powerful, but never really laying down the law with some enormous wave of LFE as is common with horror flicks. The surrounds are never at a loss for ambient sounds, as the forest and hovel is alive with all sorts of directional tones and queues to make the audience feel like they’re right there in the cabin with the poor family.
• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Eggers
• Salem Panel Q&A with Cast and Crew
• Design Gallery
• "The Witch": A Primal Folktale
I initially worried about “The Witch” being a bit too religious, but while religion takes a large portion of the film’s narrative, it’s more a folktale and mythology piece than anything. Something that the subscript makes very clear. It takes the old witch hunting days of the early 1700s and morphs it into a terrifying supernatural thriller that preys upon our sense of fear of Satan along with the underlying and knawing tension of just WHAT is behind all of this terror. Slow burning, but definitely effective, “The Witch” is one of the more unique horror movies to come out in quite some time and actually creeped out this very jaded horror fanatic. Audio and video are excellent and while the extras are a bit mild, it is still definitely worth a watch for those who like a good horror movie. Recommended.
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 92 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 17th 2016
Buy The Witch On Blu-ray at Amazon
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