The Witch Conjures Up Some Illuminating Blu-ray Extras
It’s been less than one year since I saw Robert Eggers’ stylish and sinister feature debut, The Witch, at an early morning TIFF screening, and I still haven’t fully recovered. One of the most visceral cinematic gut-punches of 2015 (the most visceral if you count The Green Room as a 2016 film), The Witch is more than a great horror film—it’s a stunning display of elegant filmmaking and slow-burning suspense that goes against the grain of what typically passes as spooky these days.
Set in 17th century New England, the film follows a family of Puritans that have just been banished from their town plantation and are searching for a more pious life in the desolate woods. The only problem is there’s a malevolent supernatural force that’s out to extinguish them, one by one. This might sound like a remotely familiar horror plot, but it’s definitely not.
If you’re still reading, chances are you’ve seen the movie (which, not to knock the great-looking-and-sounding Blu-ray, is best experienced in a dark room with a large screen and very loud speakers) and want to know what’s up with the just-released Blu-ray/DVD, which comes housed in a steelbook case featuring some very nice artwork. While the double disc only comes with a handful extras, each of them does a good job of dissecting the film’s rich production and adding historical context to a truly distinctive film.
The Witch: A Primal Folktale runs just eight minutes, but crams in quite a lot of info from Eggers and his equally chatty cast on the film’s themes, characters, script, sets, costumes, and, of course, its little-seen witch. One of the more amusing anecdotes comes from Eggers, who’s still traumatized by how uncooperative the goat that played Black Philip was throughout production.
Next up is a lengthy post-screening Q&A that fittingly went down in Salem, Massachusetts. Here, Eggers is joined by star Anya Taylor-Joy, bestselling author Brunonia Barry, and Salem Witch Trials historian Richard Trask. This is a surprisingly dense extra that covers everything from the film’s Northern Ontario shooting location (which had, like, no Wi-Fi), to the film’s feminist slant, to its metaphorical ties to modern-day life, to the allegedly “beautiful man” who played the devil.
While not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, this release also comes with a brief-but-illuminating design gallery that shows off various costume, character, and production sketches, many of which were drawn by Eggers. If there’s one thing these extras make abundantly clear, it’s that Eggers was intimately involved in virtually every aspect in the making of this film.
Lastly, Eggers provides a solo commentary that essentially breaks down every key moment, and then some. He’s even overly critical of several shots he and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke successfully pulled off, but didn’t blow the roof off of. Just some of these highlights include Eggers’ thoughts on the historical accuracy of the film’s iconic double V typeface, why exactly the family was banished from their home (they’re Plymouth separatist pilgrims), the grossness of those baby entrails used to grease up the witch’s flying stick, how they had to store a bunch of corn for several months just to get it properly rotten, how truly terrible Black Philip was on set (as previously mentioned), and how he prefers the film’s closing credits music to the entire film. It’s a great track, but I personally think Eggers is exaggerating on that one.
You can own The Witch on Blu-ray/DVD today. Blow out the candles and check out the creepy trailer below.