Robert Eggers’ much lauded folk horror has come a long way since its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January 2015, spearheading a contemporary folk horror revival and helping to cement Eggers’ status as one of the most exciting new voices in the genre.
Subtitled A New-England Folktale, The Witch (often stylised as The VVitch) is set in 1630s New England and follows a family of English settlers who are banished from their Puritan colony following a religious dispute and forced to make a new life for themselves on a remote farmstead by the edge of a vast forest.
Not long after their arrival, the family begins to experience strange and malevolent forces emanating from the woods beyond the farm. Dark and unsettling things begin to happen. Intense paranoia mounts. The family’s new born baby disappears without trace, another child falls mysteriously ill and the young twins accuse their elder sister Thomasin of being a witch, who in turn claims that the twins have been conversing with Satan, who has taken the form of the family’s young billy goat, Black Phillip.
Eggers’ film is an exercise in scenography, atmosphere and slow burning psychological tension, driven by a good cast including Anya Taylor-Joy (in her breakout performance), Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, and inspired by his childhood in New Hampshire and visits to the Plimoth Patuxet.
The Witch is a film steeped in traditional folk lore and folk horror elements, employing evocative, expressionist designs, filled with rich, historical detail and built around the core themes of Puritan repression, sin, possession and witchcraft.
Similar to Arthur Miller’s allegorical play The Crucible, which focuses on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692–93, more than half a century after the events here, The Witch demonstrates how a small community gripped by the fear of religion, witchcraft and black magic can be torn apart by one little white lie.
Free from commercial jump scares and gratuitous gore, this is thought-provoking, art-house horror at its most intriguing.
Second Sight’s new 4K Ultra HD release is presented in Dolby Vision HDR, approved by Robert Eggers, and looks incredibly crisp and clean, with razor sharp details, deep blacks and rich tones. It isn’t a pure showcase for what HDR can offer, but it is a beautiful presentation nonetheless, and Eggers’ desaturated new grade gives us a look that is closer to what the director envisaged with its hazy visuals and slightly washed colour palette.
The atmospheric English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track won’t win any awards but it certainly does the job here. For the most part, however, audio is very clean, and the track makes good use of the unnerving natural ambience across the surround channels for added immersion. However, Mark Korven’s intense and eerily dissonant score is the star attraction as far as the audio is concerned and sounds particularly impressive.
You may need to stick the subtitles on at some points as some of the dialogue can be rather muffled and mumbled.
Limited Edition Contents include: a Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Peter Diamond; 150 page hardback book with new essays by Emerson Baker, Daniel Bird, Anton Bitel, Charles Bramesco, Lillian Crawford, Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Anya Stanley plus stills, costume and production design gallery; and 6 collectors’ art cards.