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The Witch: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

The Witch (2016) movie poster The Witch

Theatrical Release: February 19, 2016 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Robert Eggers

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainger (Mercy), Lucas Dawson (Jonas), Julian Richings (Governor), Bathsheba Garnett (The Witch), Sarah Stephens (The Witch - Young), Wahab Chaudhry (Black Phillip), Axtun Henry Dube (Samuel), Athan Conrad Dube (Samuel)

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In its opening credits, The Witch is given the subtitle A New-England Folktale
and that's not merely a ploy to attract residents of America's Northeast. The closing credits include a disclaimer that much of the film's depictions and dialogue have been taken directly from journals, diaries, and court records.

In 1630, a family of six devout Puritans from England is banished from an American plantation community over the "prideful conceit" of patriarch William (Ralph Ineson, who you might but probably should not remember from his recurring role in the UK's "The Office"). William, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), and their four children try to make it on their own as farmers residing near a forest. The family's latest addition, the infant Samuel, disappears during a game of peekaboo with eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), an incident that understandably weighs down on the entire clan.

After Thomasin and eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) go missing in the woods and return worse for the wear, the family must confront the evil forces afflicting them. Suspicion falls upon Thomasin, but no one in the family, not even young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) can be ruled out from having had a hand in these troubling occurrences.

In "The Witch", Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is troubled by a game of peekaboo ending with the disappearance of her infant brother.

Written and directed by young newcomer Robert Eggers, The Witch is not your typical horror film. So many of those are interchangeable tales of haunted houses and psycho killers.
They're almost always contemporary too. The Witch, on the other hand, commits to its distant period setting. The dialogue is evidently authentic and sometimes difficult to hear or understand, but you're able to follow along enough to get a sense of this settler family's faith and fears.

The distinctive setting and texture renders The Witch uniquely atmospheric. How many times have you seen a movie where a family dinner gets interrupted by the sound of bleating goats? Not many, eh? The dramatized era and historical research require a different mindset of the viewer, which in turn makes it easier for the film to disarm with unpredictability. Possibilities are raised but not oversold, leaving us to speculate who or what is really behind these mysteries.

Though perhaps not well-documented, it should be well-known that critics appreciate movies that are different. We watch hundreds of movies every year and many of them are alike. Something bold enough to stand out as truly original tends to be celebrated. The Witch certainly was, drawing critic approval ratings in the 80s and 90s on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Those favorable reviews, quite rare for a genre whose lack of originality is often bemoaned, may have sparked some contrarian reactions from the general public. Even on IMDb, a site which skews towards serious and discerning young male moviegoers, the film carries a fairly average 6.9 out of 10 user rating.

In truth, the modest rating may also reflect that The Witch isn't the most accessible or digestible of movies. It's got the make-up of an art house picture but belongs to a genre that doesn't typically feature prominently in art houses. It was treated like other mainstream horror movies, too; given a wide release in over 2,000 theaters, where even in February its fourth place opening (with the weekend's second highest per-theater average among wide releases) seemed pretty impressive. The film held okay for a second weekend in which it expanded slightly. Then it began to drop in a fairly steep if not that unusual fashion. Mostly done, it's sitting on $25 million domestic and $32 million worldwide, potent sums for a starless film that reportedly cost just $1 million to produce. It is a close second place behind Ex Machina among all the theatrical releases of A24, a young studio whose frequent acclaim has not often translated to commercial success.

On Tuesday, The Witch hits Blu-ray and DVD, each equipped with digital copy in matching definition, from A24 video partner Lionsgate.

The Witch: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.66:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital ($19.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Witch utilizes the relatively narrow 1.66:1 aspect ratio that hasn't been in standard use for a long time, especially in America. The Blu-ray presents the film's striking compositions in clean, sharp, and vivid fashion. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is similarly effective and commendable. The tough to process dialogue will make the disc's lack of a non-SDH English subtitle track a little disappointing for some.

Writer-director Robert Eggers discusses his vision in "The Witch: A Primal Folktale." Eggers also does the bulk of the talking in the witchcraft-focused Salem Panel Q & A.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Robert Eggers. He has the enthusiasm of a first-time filmmaker plus even more as someone with a unique, original vision he fully believes in.
He discusses shooting in Ontario (and, less extensively, Massachusetts), points out cost-cutting measures taken to stretch the low budget, testifies to the historical accuracy of even the smallest details, and acknowledges sparing use of CGI. It's an above-average track that fans might find worth a listen.

"The Witch: A Primal Folktale" (8:28) is a brief but sufficient making-of featurette. It supplies cast and crew interviews along with some behind-the-scenes still photos.

Next up, a rarity for a Lionsgate title, is a Q & A with cast and crew (27:59) held last February in Salem, Massachusetts. Eggers, Anya-Taylor Joy, author Brunonia Barry, and Salem Witch Trials historian Richard Trask discuss the movie, with a focus on historical accuracy and witchcraft portrayal more than anything else. It's a little choppily edited but has value.

A costume sketch from the design gallery shows how Robert Eggers' vision for Caleb was realized in the final film. Getting a child actor to even chew something that doesn't taste good proves a challenge in the hidden outtakes reel.

Finally, a 16-still viewer-navigated design gallery shows off costume and character sketches as well as plans for the farm house and photos of its construction.

Found by exploring the disc's files (but not the menu, where it is presumably hidden) is a 6-minute, 28-second outtakes reel,
showing off the kid actors being kids and thus requiring direction from both Eggers and their older castmates. It also features an uncooperative canine and helpful crew members.

"Trailers" repeats the disc-opening trailers for Green Room, The Adderall Diaries, Mojave, Tusk and Ex Machina. The Witch's own attention-grabbing trailer is not included.

The menu loops a screen-filling montage of scored clips. The Blu-ray resumes unfinished playback of anything and everything.

The eco-friendly keepcase is covered by a glossy slipcover reproducing the same unconventional, vaguely spoilerific cover art. The only insert supplies your code and directions for the Digital HD with UltraViolet that is included with your purchase.

On a hunt, William (Ralph Ineson) and Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) discuss the whereabouts of missing baby Jonathan's soul.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it won't be everyone's cup of tea, The Witch is certainly a breath of fresh air in the stagnant world of horror. Unsettling, atmospheric, and original, this low-budget film warrants a look from more than just genre enthusiasts. Lionsgate's Blu-ray gets the job done.

Buy The Witch from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD + Digital / Instant Video

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Reviewed May 16, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 A24 Films, Parts & Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures,
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