Film Review – The Witches

The Witches (M)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Jahzir Bruno

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The classic 1983 Roald Dahl book The Witches gets dusted off for a second big-screen adaptation, this time with all the CGI money can buy.

In the 1960’s, a young boy (Jahzir Bruno) is sent to live with his Grandma (Octavia Spencer) after his parents are killed in a car crash.

While in his vulnerable state of grief and adjusting to his new life, the boy is approached by a witch (oh yeah, they exist and prey on small children, who they have a deep disdain for), so his Grandma packs up and they go on the run and hide out at a luxury hotel where her cousin works.

The hotel turns out to be the exact location a coven of witches led by the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) are holding their own little convention where they plan to turn all children into rodents.

The 1990 screen adaptation starring Angelica Huston is renowned for terrorising a generation of youngsters, but with Back to the Future’s Robert Zemeckis behind the lens this time, 2020’s youngsters are fairly safe, despite the M rating.

There seems to be a tonal push and pull going on throughout this film, with co-scriptwriter Guillermo del Toro’s (The Shape Of Water) darker sensibilities quite evident (the dark, somber opening and young hero in danger), but Zemeckis has a tendency to lean towards lighter fair.

There is a cartoon quality to it all, and not just due to the spirited performances; the heavy reliance on CGI from mice to costumes makes one wonder why this wasn’t just made in 3D animation instead.

As mentioned, the performances are terrific, with Spencer such a warm screen presence, Bruno showing impressive range for a newcomer and Hathaway relishing her opportunity to be over the top evil.

Their enthusiastic performances and the lively action scenes help make up for some iffy pacy (some sequences play out far too long in single locations) and tonal inconsistencies.

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