Film review: The Witches (2020)

Robert Zemeckis takes on Roald Dahl’s The Witches for a new spin but loses his purpose pretty quickly. And Anne Hathaway is no Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch

“That’s how you wanna play, we’ll play”

I swear I went into watching this ‘reimagining’ of The Witches with as open a mind as I could muster but the truth, Nicolas Roeg’s iconic 1990 film looms incredibly large in the mind as I first saw it then as an impressionable 11 year old. The fabulousness of Anjelica Huston’s performance, and Jane Horrocks’ menacing work too, etched themselves on my mind, leaving Robert Zemeckis with lots to do here.

And I’m not sure he really does it. His screenplay, written with Guillermo Del Toro and Kenya Barris, shifts the action to Alabama in the late 1960s but does little with that, aside from casting the excellent Octavia Spencer as Grandma alongside Jahzir Bruno’s Charlie. And in simply retreading familiar ground, there’s little that really gives any sort of compelling reason for this new adaptation to exist.

An abundance of CGI effects might have the same chilling effect that the original film had on me but for me, they’re over-egged in the almost cartoonish nature in which they’re deployed one after the other after the other. And maybe that’s part of the problem – this is a film for kids, unencumbered by prior work. But even then, the sense of peril never feels real and a deadly repetitiveness kicks in once the key transformation happens.

For all its vividness, Anne Hathaway’s scenery-chewing, accent-mangling performance feels unmoored here, not quite in keeping with the film that surrounds her. Not even a company that is full of random thespian cameos – you can spot the likes of Ken Nwosu, Charles Edwards, Simon Manyonda, Angus Wright and Cyril Nri schlepping about in the hotel – can rescue the film in the end. 

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