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Review: The Witches (2020)

The Witches (2020)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Premise: Based on the book by Roald Dahl. A boy and his grandmother stay at a hotel where unbeknownst to them an organization of witches is holding a convention. The witches plan to destroy all the world’s children by turning them into mice.

What Works: The Witches features young actor Jahzir Bruno in the lead role and he is quite good. In the early part of the film, Bruno’s character loses his parents to a tragic accident and he goes to live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer). Their grief is played effectively and the boy and his grandmother have a sweet relationship.

What Doesn’t: Aside from that central performance just about everything else in The Witches is astonishingly bad. The movie features voiceover by Chris Rock as the older version of Jahzir Bruno’s character. The narration is completely unnecessary. He just tells us what’s already obvious and the narration is tonally out of sync with the rest of the film. The faulty voiceover reflects the movie’s larger problems. In successful films all the elements work together: the performances, the cinematography and sound, the visual effects. This new version of The Witches is a jumble of different pieces that never coalesce into a single coherent movie. 2020’s The Witches has no style and no atmosphere. This is a story about a boy discovering a coven of witches who plan to kill every child in the world and yet it is not at all frightening or even threatening. The film is lit and designed with a flat, boring visual style. There is no sense of horror, even the kind appropriate for a family movie. Scenes that should be dramatic have no tension and moments that are supposed to be big and exciting look silly but not in a way that’s any fun. The humor is off. The comic moments are rarely funny and frequently stupid. The special effects are especially bad. When the children are transformed into rodents they look like cartoons. The witches are given large, digitally enhanced mouths and the effect is really sloppy, often looking like CGI from the late 1990s. Anne Hathaway is miscast as the Grand High Witch. Hathaway has never been convincing as a villain but she is really bad in The Witches. Hathaway turns everything up to eleven while affecting a Russian (?) accent and she comes across like a villain from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Bottom Line: The 2020 version of The Witches is a disaster. Just about every choice in this film is the wrong one and it’s confounding how many talented people made such a terrible film. The 1990 version of The Witches wasn’t perfect but it had more craft and imagination in any one scene than the entirety of the 2020 edition.

Episode: #836 (January 24, 2021)