Thursday 22 October 2020

The Witches (Movie Review)

The spooky season festivities move over to HBO Max this week, with its release of The Witches, an adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children's book. Originally slated for a global theatrical release, the movie is instead debuting on the streaming service because... COVID.

This is actually the second time the book is being adapted into a feature film, since its publication in 1983, the first being a film released in 1990. I have neither read the book nor seen that previous movie, so consider this my unbiased assessment of the new film, which is being helmed by Robert Zemeckis.

The movie is set in Alabama during the 1960s, where a young boy named Charlie (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) is forced to go and live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer), after his parents die in a car accident. And there she would help him to overcome his grief as best as she could. But after Charlie has an encounter with a strange woman one day, he'd learn from his grandmother that the strange woman was in fact a witch, and that they hated children. 

In a bid to protect him from the clutches of this particular witch, they both go to stay at a fancy hotel. But unbeknownst to them, that very hotel was to be the meeting ground for a coven of witches led by The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway). Charlie uncovers their nefarious plan to turn all the kids in the world into mice, but not before he is turned into one himself. Now it is up to him and his newfound friends to foil the witches.

Robert Zemeckis has been accused of being infatuated by special-effects in his past works, and The Witches isn't much different. The effects themselves are a bit of a mixed bag, with most of it coming across as unconvincing, despite an obvious effort to make them pop. At least the designs for the witches look creepy enough to be fascinating, and I imagine younger kids might even find some of it frightening.

Anne Hathaway also brings the Grand High Witch to life with an electrifying performance that, while it might not win her any awards, was still a delight to see. Likewise Octavia Spencer continues to shine, even though this is a role for which she continually gets typecast. At least she didn't give a phoned in performance like I'd feared she would.

Overall, The Witches is a middle-of-the-road dark fantasy film that might manage to please younger kids. Parents shouldn't be too bored during its proceedings either, especially if they have some level of nostalgia for its source material. And while I can't speak to how well it compares to the book or its 1990 adaptation, I can still see this version offering some kid-friendly fun this Halloween.

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