The Witches, 2020.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Chenoweth, Chris Rock, Jahzir Bruno and Codie-Lei Eastick.
After the loss of his parents in a car accident a young boy (Jahzir Bruno) gets taken in by his Grandma (Octavia Spencer). Slowly she starts to help him deal with the loss and enjoy a new life, until one night he encounters witches.
This retelling of the classic tale relocates audiences to Alabama in 1968, spinning an engaging yarn that delivers pitch perfect tone. Octavia Spencer lays the groundwork in a performance which is unfortunately overshadowed by what follows. Writer director Robert Zemeckis is on solid form mixing the mundane and fantastical, while his soundtrack is peppered with original RnB classics from the period.
Relying primarily on voice over and an inventive slideshow to establish plot, comedian Chris Rock keeps it light while the director employs flashback to introduce Jahzir Bruno. His scenes with Octavia Spencer and a very English Codie-Lei Eastick are concise yet engaging. Issues of abandonment and isolation are tackled fleetingly, while anything darker is glossed over. For fans of the original this experience will be all about witches and thankfully Anne Hathaway delivers in spades.
She singlehandedly steals the show from the get go being both elegantly grotesque and simultaneously striking, in an eerily repulsive way. There are flashes of intentional comedy in an accent which wraps itself around words like a viper. Deeply Eastern European in origin and borderline alluring despite the gaping maw of razor sharp teeth, she is genuinely frightening. A combination of physical and digital effects only add to her depiction of preening evil, as she cavorts around like a possessed beauty pageant winner. Anyone who stands nearby gets swept up in this outrageous performance, which makes Tim Curry’s Frank n Furter seem well adjusted.
Elsewhere Stanley Tucci’s hotel manager is woefully underwritten and given little to do apart from look stricken when things kick off. On the other hand there are pea soup set pieces rife with comedic potential which are fully exploited. Exploding witches, swarms of digital rats and a modicum of mass panic see this adaptation reach its potential in the latter stages. Character development might not be paramount but this new incarnation delivers enough light hearted thrills to make it worth the investment. All the younger actors fully commit to their motion capture performances post transformation, whilst further digital work makes an enjoyable if saccharine soaked final reel.
However despite this without Anne Hathaway handing Anjelica Huston her coat in blistering fashion, this reimagining would struggle to best the original. There are some clever choices and Robert Zemeckis takes full advantage of the VFX available, but ultimately this is family fare lacking the pitch black bite of its original author.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★