Not the easiest sell admittedly, and prone to alienating its audience, The Witch crushed expectations at Sundance with its presentation of a puritan family facing their worst fears. $40 million at the box office later against a $4 million budget, and The Witch was cemented as an indie horror hit. Stars were made of Anya Taylor-Joy and director Robert Eggers, who has gone on to direct The Lighthouse and The Northman since. It's easy to forget when watching The Witch that it was Eggers' first feature. The characters are well drawn, the direction is strong and the attention to detail and controversy in its images suggests an established and confident creator who has long found his feet.
Eggers' doesn't see it that way. Interviews included in the new Blu-ray release from Second Sight show him as self-deprecating and critical of his own works. He says he doesn't think it's a bad film, but there is a lot he isn't happy with. We are our own worst critics obviously, because it's phenomenal.
Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is brought to the New England wilderness by her parents, William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie). Along with her younger siblings, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson). Katherine is expecting a fifth child, and when little Samuel is born, Thomasin takes on a lot of the responsibility of caring for the baby alongside her responsibilities on the family farm.
Under Thomasin's eyes, Samuel is taken from the family. We are shown a possible image of what happens to the baby, but whether this is real remains unconfirmed. This unsettles the unit, Katherine fosters growing insidious resentment over her eldest daughter, who she sees as responsible for the loss of her baby. She also suspects Thomasin of impropriety due to her burgeoning womanhood, despite the only people she sees being those she's related to.
The youngest children start to talk of a witch in the woods, and this image seeps its way into the minds of all of them. Aided by starvation, religious hysteria and isolation the family begins to crumble, and ultimately Thomasin has to choose between her puritan life and more secular freedoms.
The Witch is drawn in such a way that it is entirely open to interpretation as to the cause of the family's problems. A little research into the rot that grows on the corn suggests one answer, but there are other factors that do defy explanation if they are indeed real as well. The performances are all so realistic though that you accept that the family are experiencing this accurately despite the impossibility of it.
This all combines into a film which is creepy, unsettling and disturbing in equal measure. Though we can't necessarily relate to the characters, their world is built in such a way that it never feels contrived or manipulated. This is their reality, and it is hellish.
The new release from Second Sight boasts a typically strong collection of bonus features. Interviews with Eggers and the main cast help to add some insight to the development process, the filming and how the cast approached the story. Also included is the short film, Brothers, which exists in a similar sort of timeless isolation as The Witch, and shares some similar themes.
The only mild criticism is the lack of any video essays for those of us who really want to go full nerd over our movies. The inclusion of those in previous releases have been a highlight so it's a shame The Witch doesn't have one. Aside from that, it's a stunning release for an incredible film.
The Witch is released in a Limited Edition 4k box set from Second Sight on July 25th