The Witches (2020)

I love the original (as evidenced here), I love Anne Hathaway, and I like a lot of Robert Zemeckis’ work, he has made some great films which are both terrifying yet also suitable for kids (I’m thinking primarily of Who Framed Roger Rabbit). So I was really looking forward to this. Well, I would have been if I had known about it. I didn’t even know it existed until about 3 weeks ago when I glimpsed a trailer for it. I’ve seen more from films which aren’t out for another year than I did for this, it’s almost like the studio had no faith in it, and for good reason, it’s a mess.

First off, the film has narration from the lead character. But the lead character is a child, and the narrator is obviously an adult, so you know that no matter what, they’re going to survive. Also, it’s Chris Rock, which, I love the guy, but he’s wrong for this. He works for Everybody Hates Chris, because it’s a comedy, but he doesn’t inject either the sense of playfulness, or the dread necessary for this film to work.

This film has a real issue with voices, now I think about it. Anne Hathaway is playing it like she couldn’t pick between five different accents, so just decided to do them all, sometimes switching mid-sentence. It pained me to say that, as I LOVE her stuff usually, her performance in Rachel Getting Married is still one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in film. But her accent in this film is soooooo bad. I suppose it wouldn’t seem quite AS bad if the role in the original wasn’t Anjelica Huston, who is perfect and I will hear no arguments against it.

There is another vocal performance that was much much worse, and almost hurt my ears with how piercing it was, but I won’t name them as I haven’t heard the performer in anything else, so that might be their actual voice and saying it’s awful would be kind of bullying.

The lead performers are great though. Octavia Spencer continues to be amazing, providing the emotional depth the film needs. I’m unfamiliar with the work of Jahzir Bruno, but he gives a performance behind his years here. You can criticise a lot of this film, but you definitely can’t fault his performance. You can’t fault the general feel of the opening of the movie. Before they leave for the hotel the general feel of the film is one that you can’t help but notice, and really from a directing standpoint the feeling of those moments are the highlights of the film.

The actual witch-based moments don’t come off as well, with one exception. When the main character is having the witches described to them, shapes form on the ceiling to demonstrate what is being spoken about, it’s a moment of wonder and brilliance that is truly worthy of the story. The rest? A woeful mix of bad CGI and weird visual choices means that everything looks fake and kind of stupid. One of the most obvious examples of this is when we see a story from Grandma’s youth where her friend gets attacked by a witch, and gets turned into a chicken. It could be haunting but it never comes off as such, it just seems funny. This is especially annoying as it replaces a scene in the original which I love. In the original the girl is cursed and ends up in a painting, never being seen to be moved, but she does move unseen, and she ages in real time until one day she disappears. THAT’S terrifying. A simple “turned into a chicken” isn’t anywhere near. It could have been, if the parents killed the chicken and ate it. But they don’t.

There is one really creepy moment in this film though. The witches in this have claws, a bit like lobsters. There’s a scene where they click them all together and it’s super unsettling, I wish the film was more like it. It’s that kind of unique innovation that the film is lacking. There’s a moment where the witches all get turned into mice (oh, spoilers, I guess) and it’s a very exaggerated moment where they fly up and land as mice. It’s kind of a cool visual but it’s very flat, there’s no musical accompaniment. It could have been a very cool moment (think of the head exploding scene in Kingsman), but instead it’s just nothing.

I suppose that’s the big issue with this, how nothing it feels. It’s over 100 minutes yet it doesn’t feel like it. I don’t mean that in a good way, it just feels like nothing happens. It introduces very few characters and yet they somehow all feel undeveloped. I just….I just want more.

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