Reimagining Roald Dahl’s beloved novel for a modern audience, Robert Zemeckis tells the darkly humorous and heartwarming tale of a young orphaned boy (credited as ‘Bruno Hero Boy’) who, in late 1967, goes to live with his loving Grandma in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis.
As the boy (Jahzir Kadeem) and his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely whisks him away to a 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-undercover-to carry out her nefarious plans.
So, I have not seen the 1990 original film, nor have I read the book. Therefore, my judgement on the film will be what has been shown in this version.
The Witches, despite a kiddish appeal, is a grim story in essence and the fact that it does not follow a standard ‘happily ever after’ conclusion is quite bitter pill to swallow.
The initial premise of these ‘Witches’ being manipulative, evil and demonic could be deemed as misogynistic and it is understandable why.
However, the grandma tries to clarify that “witches aren’t women at all. They’re demons in human shape” and this smartly avoids the narrative in becoming a gender-problematic watch.
Interestingly, there are various aspects which resonate with the current climate.
For instance, the fact that a witch “can make you cough” and “they wear gloves” because they got claws not hands, makes it oddly relatable as these two things are linked closely with Coronavirus.
Furthermore, since children are most vulnerable during the pandemic, the movie in a way makes one feel protective of the little ones and guard them against the potential perils.
Marketed to be a Halloween release there are several tropes for this to appeal to young(ish) viewers:
A grand, lonesome hotel, demonic threat, creepy characters and a heart-breaking tragedy are sufficient to create a spooky ambience.
Also, given the fact that lockdown is still active in some places across the globe, such a narrative gives a sense of escapism and adventure to young viewers (with parental guidance, of course).
Having said that though, the overall execution is weak and there seems to be more style than substance.
Whilst there is an added razzmatazz to the film, the content is portrayed in a dud manner and thus, lacks relatability.
For some reason, the viewer is not able to feel the protagonist’s fragility nor do we fear the imminent threat he faces.
Whether it is the special effects/costumes or character creations, they all seem to be half-baked.
Even the humorous quotients are a struggle and seem cringe-worthy rather than enjoyable. Maybe the kids would find it funny, but adults would just be confused.
It’s great to see Black American actors headlining a mainstream work like this, which would otherwise be played by white actors.
Nonetheless, the context of why the story is rooted in Alabama and more details on the grandmother’s origins makes us question the entire premise and, to an extent, pretentious.
If there is anything that the reboot gets right, it’s the casting. Octavia Spencer is a natural artist he does well with her role, but a better script would’ve really justified her remarkable talent.
Anne Hathaway is magnificent as the principal villain. Having played an idiosyncratic but darkly comical character in Birds Of Prey, she once again proves her incredible craft as an actor.
While watching the movie, I thought how fascinating it would’ve been had Chris Columbus helmed this work.
He enchanted us in his cinematic creations of Stuart Little and Harry Potter… Imagine how fun and magical this project would’ve been?
Given that several visionary filmmakers unite for this film, especially co-producers Guillermo Del Torro and Alfonso Cuaron, who are pioneers in dark fantasy genres, The Witches turns out to be a missed opportunity.
Sure, it’s glitzy, but there is no fizz nor fear in this dark fantasy comedy reboot. Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer are fab, but the rest is drab.
⭐⭐.5 (2.5/5 stars)