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'The Witch' Blu-ray Review: A film for horror and history buffs alike

May 17, 2016Ben MK

M. Night Shyamalan's most recent film, The Visit, earned quite a few rave reviews, partly because it felt like a return to form for the director. But if you're looking for an even more effective throwback to Shyamalan's earlier work, look no further than writer/director Robert Eggers' The Witch: A New-England Folktale, a film that takes our collective fear of the supernatural and twists it into one of the most haunting movies in recent memory.

Set in the late seventeenth century, the film tells the story of a devoutly religious family who fall out of favor with the leaders of their plantation and are banished to the outlying woods. There, patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) hopes to start anew. But, of course, it doesn't take long for things to go awry. And when their youngest, baby Samuel, is snatched right from under the nose of eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), his dream of a better life for himself, his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), and their five children slowly begins to unravel.

Stylish and creepy, the result is the kind of old-school frightener that viewers won't soon forget. But aside from its foreboding imagery, eerie score and unnerving performances, what really sets the movie apart is Eggers' grueling attention to detail. Based on real-life accounts and court records from the era, The Witch paints a chilling portrait of the time in American history leading up to the Salem Witch Trials. And there's truly nothing scarier than knowing that the terror on-screen is grounded in some equally horrifying real-life atrocities.

The Witch is by no means a showy film, but, nonetheless, the movie's visuals and sound design go a long way in establishing its unsettling tone. Thankfully, this Blu-ray's 1080p transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix do thorough justice to both, allowing splashes of crimson red blood to pop against the otherwise muted color palette, populating the image with nuance, enabling viewers to appreciate the painstaking attention to historical minutiae, and making the instrumental compositions and vocal chants that fill the score even more memorably disturbing.

Elevation Pictures' two-disc Blu-ray Steelbook release includes a DVD copy of the film, an iTunes digital copy and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Audio Commentary With Director Robert Eggers - Eggers talks about shooting in Northern Ontario, the historical details and the production design, the score and the sound design, the actors' performances, the editing process and more.
  • The Witch: A Primal Folktale (8:28) - A making-of piece that addresses the film's production and costume design, as well as the characters and the direction.
  • Salem Panel Q&A With Cast And Crew (27:59) - Salem State Professor & Historian Emerson "Tad" Baker moderates this Q&A with writer/director Robert Eggers, star Anya Taylor-Joy, NY Times Best-Selling Author & Salem Historian Brunonia Barry and Salem Historian & Archivist Richard Trask.
  • Design Gallery - A gallery of 17 still images showcasing a variety of costume, character and set designs.

The Witch is available from Elevation Pictures as of May 17th, 2016. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The film is presented with English SDH and Spanish subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 32 mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my Toronto International Film Festival review, published on September 14th, 2015.

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