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‘The Witches’ Is A Fun Halloween Treat – Review

Set in 1960s Alabama, newly-orphaned Charlie (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) moves in with his grandmother, Agnes (Octavia Spencer), after his parents are killed in a car accident. While Charlie does his best to process his grief and come to terms with his sadness, his grandmother does her best to break him out of his shell and teach him that even bogged down with sorrow, Charlie can still find some happiness if only he allows it. 

Eventually, Charlie begins to open up with the help of his grandmother and the pet mouse she gifts him, which he names Daisy (Kristin Chenoweth).  However, while out on a grocery run with Agnes, Charlie has a close encounter with a witch. Of course, he is unaware of the true nature of the woman who briefly offers him candy at the store. When he tells his grandmother about what happens, she is worried but unsurprised. She tells her grandson very matter-of-factly that witches exist and they are dangerous, preying upon children and the innocent. 

The Witches - Cast
Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as Charlie, Octavia Spencer as Agnes and Stanley Tucci as Mr. Stringer in The Witches (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

A witch being this close can only spell trouble, so Charlie and Agnes pack up some of their items and stay in a hotel in hopes that they do not come across any other witches. But, that is easier said than done when Lilith, the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) and a congregation of witches are also staying at the hotel. Shortly thereafter, mayhem ensues–including Charlie and his new friend Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) get transformed into mice so the witches can easily dispose of them. However, Charlie has other plans and must act quickly to save the lives of his grandmother, his friends and himself. 

I would like to start by letting everyone reading this know that I haven’t seen the original The Witches from 1990 starring Anjelica Huston (tragic, I know), nor have I read the Roald Dahl novel of the same name. Therefore, I went into the film relatively blind and have nothing to compare it with. That being said, I did find The Witches to be quite entertaining. With a screenplay by Robert Zemeckis, Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro, this dark fantasy/comedy will likely be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch in The Witches (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Each member of the cast shines as their respective characters and I was especially impressed by newcomers Bruno and Eastick. Not only do the pair have to do their fair share of on-screen acting, they both had to incorporate a lot of voice acting, which was just as good as the actual time they spent in human form during the film. Veterans Spencer, Hathaway, Tucci and Chenoweth are equally great in their roles and Hathaway gives us a Grand High Witch you love to hate. Hathaway was equal parts menacing, funny and creepy as the Grand High Witch and did a good job with the script she had to work with.

But while you may be focused on the witches and their dastardly plans, I must say all of their wardrobes were on point. The colours, the fabrics, the outfits, the accessories, particularly the headwear, were all mesmerising and meticulously crafted. Sure, they wanted to rid the world of children, but at the very least they were going to be dressed to the nines in order to do it. We stan a coven of stylish children hating witches.

Octavia Spencer as Agnes and Stanley Tucci as Mr. Stringer in The Witches (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Again, while I don’t have anything to compare the film to, I did enjoy it for what it was. The film was set at a coherent pace and had a compelling lore to follow. There is a sense of timelessness that is perfectly captured with the period the film is set in and the technology that helps render the effects, which adequately reflects the longevity of these witches lives. The audacious and whimsical period elements paired with special effects work in just the right way to give the film that rewatchability factor.

Barris, del Toro and Zemeckis work well together in pulling together elements of the ‘regular’ world and filling it with magic–even if it is from a treacherous source. It seemed that the writers tried to stay true to the components of the original story and at the same time, try to reach a wider audience. The film does reflect the film history and experience that each of these filmmakers have in their toolbox. While this is very much a Zemeckis directed film, elements from each of them could be found throughout. However, whether they were able to successfully reinterpret The Witches for a new audience is another thing entirely. While I think it worked in some ways, it does fall a little flat in others: more world-building would have been nice, specifically as it pertained to the witches, and some of the backstory for certain characters left little to be desired (as to avoid spoilers, I won’t say just what – but I am sure you’ll see what I mean upon viewing).

While I’m sure there will be plenty of people who feel that the original 1990 film adaptation is untouchable, I do hope that they still give this version of The Witches a watch – even just for the performances alone. If you’re looking for a new film that has the potential of being added to your list of Halloween-themed favourites, be sure to check out The Witches.

The Witches begins streaming on HBO Max on October 22, 2020.

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