Something that feels out of touch these days is a lack of creepy fantasy children’s films. What was once a popular genre in the 80s and 90s suddenly faded away in the 2010s. Kids back in those times get to experience unimaginable horror which was not only appropriate but also traumatising enough to linger in the minds of children. Even adult audiences are so easily disturbed by such content.
But a chance to revive the genre was totally wasted on a lazy uninspired reboot, “The Witches”. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the director made critically acclaimed and well-received films such as “Forrest Gump”, “What Lies Beneath”, “The Polar Express”, and recently “Allied”.
In late 1967, an eight-year-old orphaned boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) was taken care of by his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) in a rural Alabama town called Demopolis. When the boy and his grandmother came across some deceitful, diabolical, yet glamorous witches, she takes him away to seek refuge at a seaside resort. Unfortunately for both of them, they arrive at almost the same time as the world’s Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway), who has gathered with her fellow witches from across the globe disguised as humans to carry out nefarious schemes. The movie is based on the novel of the same name written by Roald Dahl and is a remake of the 1990s version of the film.
The movie features an amazing cast with Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Chris Rock, Kristin Chenoweth, and Stanley Tucci giving reasons for audiences to have a go with “The Witches”. Also mind you, that Bruno and Spencer’s role does not have a name at all. Hence, they are both called Hero and Grandma respectively for this review.
Unfortunately, even with highly achieved Oscar-winning stars and a respectful director to boot, this movie felt like it’d be more fitting for a TV film rather than a cinematic one. Hence, it was a disappointing experience for almost the entirety of the film even with the inclusion of those big names.
But some great performances from Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway should keep less critical viewers an experience that they might enjoy. These actresses were pretty much the only saving grace for this movie alongside a great whimsical score that fits the tone and fantasy elements of the film. In all honesty, these were the only good points of this movie. Everything else just goes downhill.
First of all, some of the characters in this movie felt unnecessary here. You have Daisy (Kristin Chenoweth), a pet mouse who happens to be a human who was cursed to become a white mouse. Viewers would think that a backstory would unfold, but it never did. Stanley Tucci’s role as a hotel manager doesn’t hold any weight other than to satisfy the demand of the movie’s main villain.
Removing these two characters would not have affected the movie at all. Moreover, you have Bruno who was also turned into a mouse. He is your stereotypical chubby kid who was the butt of the joke and was always famished. The character being hungry and overweight was his only personality trait and helped perpetuate the offensive idea of fat-shaming in films. Not to mention, Chris Rock’s voice as the older Hero broke the tone of the film through his narration.
The pacing and the atmosphere of this movie felt too rushed, which resulted in very poor tension-building. Hero and Bruno got turned into a mouse. What should’ve been a horrific moment felt so easily shoved off. Becoming a mouse means having your lifespan shortened to about 9 years. But the kids that morphed into a mouse never felt any sort of panic and just brushed it off. It felt awkward, and the comedic scenes made it absolutely worse. Many of the scenes felt draggy and were painfully unfunny. The annoying mice puns didn’t help at all.
Being in the 2020s, you’d expect films to be more polished than ever, but “The Witches” had some unbearably bad CGI effects, and the cinematography felt tedious. All of these practical effects made the film less petrifying. The 1990s version of this story handled the scares way better than this. Furthermore, the movie has way too many plot conveniences that made it unimpactful.
Plot holes and unexplained questions here and there, this movie failed to satisfy our curiosities. What happened to Grandma’s friend when she was turned into a chicken by The Grand High Witch? Did she end up being butchered along with other chickens? Why can’t her friend talk in animal form but the kids who turned into mice in the film were able to do so? The history of the witches were never explained too, which made us question their goals.
Honestly, there is much more to criticise and nitpick about this film but these were the ones that stood out.
For those still keen, “The Witches” is available via streaming services on HBO GO and On Demand on Astro from 29th January 2021 onwards.