I remember The Witch less for its cinematic merits and more the fact of where I saw it (an Alamo Drafthouse) and what happened during the film (I loudly told talkers to shut the fuck up during the movie). This isn't to say that The Witch was forgettable or doesn't hold up, more that you control the vibe, and you can do what you can to control the tribe. It worked, btw.
Robert Eggers wrote and directed his feature debut, which examines a mid-17th century family's relocation to the New England forests. William (Ralph Ineson, Ready Player One) is the patriarch next to his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie, The Last Jedi), though their oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, Glass) is the focus of the conflict. When strange things happen around and to the family, she becomes the center of the attention, as does Katherine.
The large notion of The Witch was that it was conveyed the dread more than an action or actions that would jar you out of your chair, so that when the jarring moments actually happened, you're left petrified. And I think the film accomplishes that now four years after its release just as it did then. Eggers brings the viewer into the puritanical environment slowly and convincingly, and sets the framing up very well. In fact upon re-watching the exposition to the third act payoff is even more deliberate than I remember, a credit to how well it's executed.
Done in notable part to the small ensemble who works their behinds off. Ineson and Dickie provide good turns, but the film is done through Joy's eyes and she manages to provide distractions that you may miss because of how engaging and genuine she comes off in the role.
Where a lot of horror films of the age have had a lot of different variants employed designed to scare people out of their chairs, The Witch fluffs the pillow, sets you down gently and then methodically and incrementally gets you to the edge of it until you're left a wreck by the end of the film. It's part psychological, part old-school horror, part thriller, and doesn't overplay anything. I guess I was right to yell at those people after all!The Disc:
The 2160p transfer comes in Dolby Vision and looks excellent. A couple of moments include a shot that shows the sunset against the horizon and the definition is razor sharp. Black levels are inky and present shadow delineation though the contrast against the greys in the weather or against the orange and yellows of a nighttime fire help show it off as the palette isn't too vivid. Image detail is sharp and consistent through the presentation with little notable smearing or haloing. Really good work by Lionsgate.The Sound:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. I don't know if this is the same track as on the original Blu-ray but it sounds excellent. The score with the choir singing sounds clear as can be, the forest noises are natural and help reflect a convincing immersion layer for the viewer, and dialogue sounds good, and all of it against a dynamic sound effect or two is effective listening. Altogether the 4K disc is a solid work.Extras:
Everything from the first Blu-ray release is ported over here. Eggers' commentary is informative but has more listening and narrating in it than it probably should. It does cover location choices, style and shot breakdowns and production recollections nicely, and larger thoughts on the character and story arcs, and historical contexts. Just right as far as complementary information goes. A Q&A in Salem (27:59) covers some of this same ground with Eggers and the crew, and Taylor-Joy recounts some moments on-set, and notable moments of like/dislike. "A Primal Folktale (8:28) includes more of the cast and is the closest thing to a making of the film has, and a stills gallery rounds things out.Final Thoughts:
I don't know where a lot of film genres are these days, particularly horror films, but in The Witch it certainly should have served as a check to a lot of people that who don't have to grab them by the shoulders and cinematically shake them to scare the bejeezus out of them. You can just set up the pieces that you know are going to do it, gently ramp up the pressure and get just as much bang for the buck, because it scared more now as it did then, that's for damned sure. Technically the only thing you're really paying the upgrade for is the 4K presentation and it's good, but you're probably best waiting for a sale to jump on it at this point. For those who haven't seen the film, it's definitely worth your while.