Saturday, July 30, 2022

THE WITCH (2015) (Second Sight Films 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray Review with Screenshot Comparison)

THE WITCH (2015)
Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray 

Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: Region Free (UHD), B (BD)
Rating: Cert. 15
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: Uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (1.66:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Katie Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Set in 1630 New England the folk-horror tale The Witch (2015) opens with Puritan settlers standing in front of a council, we have patriarch William (Ralph Ineson, The Green Knight) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie, Prometheus), along with their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, Last Night in Soho), younger son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). They are being banished from an Puritan settlement for reasons that are a bit vague, but seem to boil down to William being accused of being a religious fanatic - and that's saying that something when the Puritans find you're beliefs too extremist. The family leave the colony community and trek into the wilderness where they come upon a dreary plot of land at the edge of a dark forest. There they begin anew with hopes of conquering the wild and flourishing, but William is not a skilled hunter nor a green-thumbed farmer, and with winter fast approaching and supplies dwindling things are looking grim for the family.

In the time since their banishment from the colony Katherine has given birth to an infant son named Samuel, but one day when Thomasin is tasked for caring for the child it disappears near the edge of the woods during a game of peek-a-boo, never to be seen again. The question lingers of what has become of the child, was it a wolf that snatched it or could it possibly have been a witch of woods, either way Thomasin's innocence in the matter is up for debate in the eyes of her mother, who anguishes over the loss of the child. We as viewers are privy to the macabre truth, that it was taken by an old hag witch (Bathsheba Garnett, Mean Girls) who proceeded to ground the infant into a slurry-paste the way you'd smash an avocado, the hag grinding it's corpse into a bloody pulp and then smearing it's over her naked body and broomstick in a gruesome ritual. 

Things were already strained with the family but once Samuel disappears the situation deteriorate rather fast, with Thomasin's younger, and often irritating, fraternal twin siblings regularly taunting her, inspiring the older sibling to lash out at them, implying that she herself is the wicked witch of the woods, and that it was her who took the infant, and that if they do not listen to her she will take them as well. Those words said in malicious jest certainly come back around to haunt Thomasin.

Later while she and her brother Caleb are hunting in the forbidden woods they become separated after she is thrown from her startled horse and knocked unconscious. Jacob continues without her but loses his way in the forest after discovering the disemboweled corpse of the family dog. While wandering lost he comes upon the witch of the woods stone hut and is seduced by the witch who takes the form of a desirable young woman with a red cloak. Thomasin returns home without her brother, drawing more suspicion but he returns that evening naked, weak, and lost in a delirium. He mutters of witches, their familiars, and his cursed soul. It's a harrowing bit of drama that plays out as he calls out for his savior in both agony and ecstasy before coughing up a rotten witch-cursed apple and dying.

As this is transpiring the twins advise their parents that Thomasin revealed herself to be a witch, while she herself returns the accusation, accusing the twins of carrying on curious conversations with a horned goat named Black Philip! From here the film spirals into a proper bit of witchy madness, which left me enthralled and quite satisfied, culminating in Thomasin suffering immeasurable betrayal and loss, but also open to the fate of which she had been accused of so often, accepting an offer to "live deliciously".

It's a masterful folk-horror tale that gives off dread vibes from the get-go, the gloomy woodland period setting which is both ruggedly gorgeous but also an isolated nightmare, accentuated by a thrumming atonal string score that gets under the skin and is sure to send shivers down your spine. The puritanical beliefs of the mother and father are absolutely suffocating, both or whom turn in multi-faceted performance, the patriarch done in by his pride and faith, and the matriarch tormented by anguish and succumbing to jealousies brought about by her daughters sexual blossoming. The threat of witchcraft only serves to further undermine the families bond, further ostracizing the teen daughter who clearly craves the love of her parents (and of the Lord), only to be scorned by her mother and ultimately abandoned by her father, delivering her soul to Devil, but also liberating her from her own Puritanical nightmare. 

Audio/Video: The Witch (2015) arrives on region-free 4K UHD from Second Sight Films in 2160p Ultra HD and framed in the original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The film has a gloomy desaturated look to it that at times is near monochromatic with lots of earthy shadings by way of cold, grey exteriors and sepia candlelit interiors, it's not the sort of color scheme that screams 4K HDR upgrade but this is superior to the U.S. Lionsgate UHD to me eyes, being a tad brighter, colors are warmer and richer and and there's an appreciable uptick in depth, detail and clarity. The Dolby Vision HDR color-grading was done with the involvement of director Robert Eggers, and it warms primaries by way of tans and browns, with the occasional red flourish, that appear slightly elevated over the accompanying region B locked Blu-ray with deeper blacks and more layered contrast.

Audio on the UHD and Blu-ray comes by way of an immersive uncompressed English DTS-HD MA optional English subtitles. The sound design is quite creepy at times with good use of the surrounds, the thrumming score and sounds of the woodland environment have a strong impact upon the viewing experience. The dialogue is crisp and clean throughout, though because of the thick English accents throughout I was thankful for the optional subtitles at certain times.
Screenshots Comparison:
Top: Lionsgate Blu-ray (2019)
Bottom: Second Sight Films Blu-ray (2022)





On top of the stellar A/V presentation we have nearly two hours of Second Sight produced interviews for the film, plus 
an archival Audio Commentary by Director Robert Eggers and a brand New Audio Commentary by film writer and broadcaster Anna Bogutskaya. 

New interviews kick-off with the 27-min A Puritan Nightmare: a new interview with Robert Eggers with the director commenting on the New England history of Puritans and the local folktales that informed his youth and the film. He also gets into the puritans as Christian extremists, describing the film as a Puritan nightmare put to film, the four year process of getting it financed, capturing the period, shooting the Brothers short film as a proof-of-concept, shooting in Canada for budget reasons, and the casting process, 

The 14-min Embracing Darkness: a new interview with Anya Taylor-Joy features the breakout star chatting about being bewitched by the script, the sense of community the atmosphere on set, and her process of getting into character and how that was different from her co-stars. She also touches on the Sundance experience and what she learned while shooting the film, plus noting that Ralph Ineson was gored by the goat multiple times resulting in trips to the doctor's office.

Love Thy Father: a new interview Ralph Ineson is a 31-min chat with the actor who starts by praising the script and identifying his character's key motivations. Also addressed is the apparently very comfortable period clothing which was hand stitched, losing weight for the role, the difficulty of working with the goat which gored him several times, and stories of Eggers obsessive eye for detail. 

We also her from the matriarch by way of the 15-min A Pious Wife: a new interview with Actor Kate Dickie, in it the maternal cast member talks about the authentic Jacobean language, the way she approached it as a family drama and not a horror, her characters suspicious nature in regard to her daughter becoming a young woman, the terrifying experience of working with the raven, and how this film opened her up to watching a bit more horror. 

The 7-min Caleb’s Lament: a new interview with Actor Harvey Scrimshaw, the young actor speaks about auditioning for the part, the scenes that made him nervous (i.e. kissing an older woman, appearing semi-nude, and how the script was quite adult and how Eggers was very helpful in putting across what he needed from him, and how helpful Ralph Ineson and Katie Dickie were in working on the possession scene with him to ensure it was done well. 

A Primal Folktale: features interviews with Robert Eggers and cast is an 8-min EPK style featurette with the cast and crew including young actors Ellie Grainger. Its got some great behind-the-scenes footage/ The on-disc extras are buttoned-up with an 11 -min BFI London Film Festival Q&A with Robert Eggers, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Producer Jay Van Hoy, plus the 11-minute Eggers' directed short film Brothers that was shot as a sort of proof-of-concept prior to The Witch, a chilling tale of brotherhood in the woodlands.  

The 2-disc limited edition release comes packaged in a Rigid Slipcase with gorgeous new artwork by Peter Diamond that captures the tone and atmosphere of the folk-horror, it's a very handsome package indeed, Second Sight usually knock it out of the park with their rigid slipbox editions and they've impressed once more with this release. Inside there's a digibook containing the two discs, plus 6 Collector Art Cards that look terrific' and a massive 150-page Illustrated Hardback Book with numerous deep-diving essays by Emerson Baker, Daniel Bird, Anton Bitel, Charles Bramesco, Lillian Crawford, Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Anya Stanley.  The essays really sink their teeth into the film in many ways, it's a treasure trove of information about the cast and crew, the production, the compositions of the score, the themes of the film, and lots of information about Puritans, witchcraft and folklore, plus some cool illustrations that dg into the construction of the period appropriate structures and hand-sewn period authentic costume design. 

Special Features 
- Features 4K UHD and Blu-ray with bonus features on both formats
- 4K UHD presented in Dolby Vision HDR
- Archival Audio Commentary by Director Robert Eggers
- NEW! Audio Commentary by film writer and broadcaster Anna Bogutskaya
NEW! A Puritan Nightmare: a new interview with Robert Eggers (27 min) 
NEW! Embracing Darkness: a new interview with Anya Taylor-Joy (14 min) 
NEW! Love Thy Father: a new interview Ralph Ineson (21 min) 
NEW! A Pious Wife: a new interview with Actor Kate Dickie (15 min)
NEW! Caleb’s Lament: a new interview with Actor Harvey Scrimshaw (7 min) 
- A Primal Folktale: features interviews with Robert Eggers and cast (9 min) 
- BFI London Film Festival Q&A with Robert Eggers, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Producer Jay Van Hoy (11 min) 
- Brothers: a short film by Robert Eggers (11 min) 
- Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

Limited Edition Contents
- Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Peter Diamond
- 150-page hardback book with new essays by Emerson W Baker, Daniel Bird, Anton Bitel, Charles Bramesco, Lillian Crawford, Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Anya Stanley plus stills, costume and production design gallery.

The Witch (2015) is a film that only gets better with additional viewings, while it certainly enchanted me the first watch with each subsequent viewing I picked up more on the themes and the meticulous construction that went into that only serve to make this witchy tale that much better. This is a classic slice of folk-horror, I think it's in the upper echelons of the sub-genre alongside Suspiria and The Blood on Satan's Claws as witchy classics, furthermore I would say that if you want to own the definitive version of the film with myriad extras and a superior A/V presentation and collectible packaging this 2-disc Limited Edition dual-format release from Second Sight Films is the one you need on your shelf.

Screenshots from the Second Sight Films Blu-ray: 




























































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