Lacking Grit: Our Review of ‘The Witches’ (2020)

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - December 24, 2020
Lacking Grit: Our Review of ‘The Witches’ (2020)

The reality is that not everything needs to be remade…

The Witches remake which debuted on the HBO Max streaming service in the States earlier this year is now hitting theatrical (where able) and premium VOD this Christmas Day.  While it catches some of the tone of the Dahl novel it also loses a little bit of focus as it’s occasionally too cutesy and occasionally too creepy.

Reimagining Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s novel for a modern audience, The Witches tells the darkly humorous and heartwarming tale of a young orphaned boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) who, in late 1967, goes to live with his loving Grandma (Octavia Spencer) in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. As the boy and his grandmother encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely whisks our young hero away to an opulent seaside resort. Regrettably, they arrive at precisely the same time that the world’s Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe to carry out her nefarious plans.

While not without some charms, this updated retelling of The Witches is just a little too uneven to be anything more than a middling bore as it tries to be too cute on one end, and far too creepy on the other.

To put it mildly; writer/director Robert Zemeckis hasn’t been on the best of runs lately and while tackling this material with the likes of Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron as executive producers feels like this should have been a slam dunk, but it really wasn’t.

It’s not the kind of thing that you can’t say wasn’t eye popping and looked like a million bucks (undoubtedly much more then that) but tonally it really felt like a film that was out of time.  It felt like it was trying to be something between Stuart Little and The Shape of Water almost being a little too true to the source material and felt beat for beat incredibly similar to the original with Anjelica Huston back from 1989.

The original film felt borderline subversive and a little naughty as a kids film that was straddling a line into the horror genre perhaps a little more than parents might want it to be doing, but here it was so in step to the original that it felt very much like people were playing it fan boy service.

There’s nothing wrong with reverence for any given pieces of art, but they do occasionally need to exist in their time and not be transplanted to a new one.  In the days of torture porn, Harry Potter and every kind of weird world you can think of in between, The Witches needed to step outside the box and give us something that would be different enough to catch our eye, and this film fails at that.

Anne Hathaway does her best to slide into the role of the Grand High Witch, and while like her enough to give her a pass on this one, it’s very clear that Angelica Huston she is not as the charm is kind of sucked out of the proceedings and it’s all rolled up into a glossy Hollywood package.  No one is bad in any of this from beginning to end, but it never feels like anyone actually has their heart set in making this one the best it could be and are just ultimately going through the motions.

The reason why audiences loved the original is also the reason why this The Witches just doesn’t work.  This has all the high gloss and flash that you’d expect from a major Hollywood production, but Zemeckis and co lost what director Nicolas Roeg had right on the original film.  For all its colour and flash, The Witches needed a little bit of dirt under its fingernails to make audiences really connect with what is at its core still a very dark, but unmistakably family friendly story.  Everyone involved on this one managed to find the fun, but replaced the grime with some unwittingly creepy and overly CGI’d bits.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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