Release Date(s)2016 (May 17, 2016)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C-
Every once in a great while, you’ll come across a film that becomes the standard, or rather the one that you rank alongside the greats of the past. It generally tends to outshine many of its contemporaries and becomes a landmark film all its own, incorporating classic techniques of filmmaking that most take for granted or forget to take into consideration when they see them put to use. First time director Robert Eggers’ The Witch is just such a film, and with the split response it seems to have received upon its initial release, I’m convinced that it will most definitely become all-time classic horror film.
Difficult as it is for me to talk about this film without spoiling the fine details, it’s also just as easy to simply call it one of the best horror films of the 21st century... really easy, in fact (that’s sort of what I just did in the preceding paragraph). One could view it through the prism of a historic recreation of life amongst common folk in a fledgling new nation amidst religious and familial turmoil, but it could also work as a simple horror film with little to no major set pieces. The story of The Witch tells of a 17th century family that, after the father’s banishment from their settlement for not complying with Puritan law, attempts to build a farm in the wilderness and live a quiet independent life. Once they’re settled, they begin to experience an unseen evil force set upon them from within the surrounding woods, something that will work to affect them and unravel them one by one.
There’s been lots of talk amongst the horror community about The Witch, due to many audiences that turned out to see it being disappointed by the lack of traditional jump scares and fast-paced editing, not to mention the found footage style being completely absent. The Witch isn’t that, and for good reason. If anything, it’s an untraditional horror film, at least by today’s standards which has, sadly, become increasingly commonplace. It’s a film that not only takes its time, but pursues atmosphere and visceral horror over your typical everyday movie spook ride. It’s psychologically unsettling, especially when you consider that it’s basically a movie about a family being torn apart by the forces of evil, and whether or not those forces succeed or fail in the end doesn’t matter. It’s not about the outcome so much as it is about the performances and the general ambiance.
It’s also a wonderfully well-photographed film. It’s not only mindful of blocking its actors and environments in creative ways, but it’s also concerned with painting with both light and shade and framing in such a way as to evoke an emotional response. This type of filmmaking only seems to come in the form of independent films these days for the most part, but when you come across something that’s so utterly stylized and precise, you know you’re watching something special. However, I think tempering your expectations when going into a film like this is probably necessary. It’s not a movie that goes bump and makes you spill your popcorn in your lap. It’s more concerned with getting under your skin and into your soul, stirring things up to where you feel unnerved by the experience rather than overtly shocked.
The bottom line is that The Witch is just an amazing piece of work. It’s likely that it will eventually be something that’s studied and imitated in film schools, and if that’s the case, perhaps future filmmakers will find more to offer their audiences in terms of atmosphere and character building rather than jump scares and hollow characters, and that certainly isn’t a bad thing.
The Witch’s high definition Blu-ray transfer sports a nearly flawless presentation. The film is soaking in fine detail in every aspect, including backgrounds, foregrounds, close-ups, etc, and it’s all recreated immaculately here. Colors are often muted or even used for effect, and as such, they’re still quite strong. Black levels are very deep, but lose detail in the shadows, which to my mind, was a stylistic choice. Contrast and brightness levels are perfect, and there are no signs of digital enhancement to be found. For the audio, an English 5.1 DTS-HD track is included. Although this isn’t a film particularly in need of a multi-channel audio presentation, it certainly isn’t wasted. It’s not a film with overly chaotic sequences in need of a vast array of sweeping sound effects from speaker to speaker, but what it does instead is build the aforementioned atmosphere with its aural surroundings. Dialogue is obviously the main focus, and it comes across crisp and clear. The spare use of score, which feels more like a sound effect than anything, also has plenty of life to it. Both whispers and breathing also play an enormous part, and they’re both mixed with plenty of fine-tuning. Overall, it’s a stellar presentation of a well-put together film. There are also subtitles in English SDH and Spanish, and due to the dialect of the characters, I have a feeling some might need subtitles to decipher some of the dialogue.
For the supplemental material, there’s an audio commentary with director Robert Eggers; The Witch: A Primitive Folktale EPK featurette; a Salem Panel Q&A with Cast and Crew; a design gallery; a set of trailers, which also open the disc; a bookmarks option; and a paper insert with a Digital HD code. Although brief, they’re certainly worth a look.
Although the film divided a lot of audiences when it was released, many creative people, as well as people who prefer a slow-burn horror film, see The Witch as a return to cinematic form. It has all the trappings of something that is destined to become a classic horror film in the years to come, and with the wonderful Blu-ray presentation offered up on this disc, it’s now time for horror fans who clamor for something new and original to put up or shut up. But for this horror fan, The Witch is a masterpiece.
- Tim Salmons