THE WITCHES (2020) reviews of Robert Zemeckis’ take on Roald Dahl’s tale

 

The Witches is a 2020 American comedy horror feature film about a seven-year-old boy who has a run-in with some real-life witches.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; Back to the Future franchise) from a screenplay co-written with Kenya Barris and co-producer Guillermo del Toro, based on Allan Scott’s 1989 screenplay and Roald Dahl‘s 1973 novel of the same name.

Plot:

In late 1967, a young orphaned boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) goes to live with his Grandma (Octavia Spencer) in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. The boy and his grandmother come across some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, so Grandma wisely whisks our young hero away to an opulent seaside resort.

Regrettably, they arrive at precisely the same time that the world’s Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe—undercover—to carry out her nefarious plans…

Release:

Originally slated for a theatrical release, The Witches debuted on HBO Max on October 22nd 2020.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Like Huston before her, Hathaway goes big and broad with the Grand High Witch and has a grand old time of it. But where Huston’s transformation was genuinely creepy, Hathaway just kind of looks like a bald Anne Hathaway. That is literally cosmetic, however. What’s more important and less satisfying is the absence of the dark vibe the film demands.” Arizona Republic

The Witches is a bubbling cauldron of dark fantasy, humor, heart, and downright silliness thanks to an insane portrayal of the Grand High Witch […] A few critical choices can be a little tonally jarring, but never as a detriment. It’s clear that the cast is having an absolute blast, and it’s infectious.” Bloody Disgusting

“While it may not have the menacing undertones and heightened surrealism that we saw in the 1990 film, Zemeckis’ take on Dahl’s The Witches is wholly faithful to the spirit of the book, but still finds ways to add in some new surprises that never feel at odds with the author’s original vision for this story. Featuring a top-tier cast who bring a lot to the table, The Witches (2020) is a wonderful new cinematic exploration of this material that will surely delight viewers of all ages.” Daily Dead

“It never hits the visceral heights of Roeg’s vision, with only flashes of visual brilliance (there’s a doozy of a shot of a car in a snowstorm). And while promising elements are wheeled into place — not least Stanley Tucci as the toadying hotel manager — it’s never quite as wild and outrageous as it could be. Still, there’s enough zip and zest to make it a fun Halloween treat…” Empire

“The material is decidedly for kids who might not care much about the poor CGI, but the constant tonal swings probably won’t help. It’s hard to tell if the movie wants you to laugh at it or pretend to be scared. Again, there are clever sequences once the story shifts focus more to the mice and it’s clear that Robert Zemeckis had the most fun designing those set pieces, but it’s all hollow and artificial.” Flickering Myth

The Witches 2020 has far too much of a reliance on CGI, yet another element that pulls the viewer out of the film and once more acts as a barrier to being frightened. The effects for the mice, the witches, and for some reason the Grand High Witch’s cat, have been pushed beyond looking realistic and consequently, all of them have more of a cartoonish sheen to them. Scenes with the mice feel more like an outtake from Ratatouille…” The Hollywood News

” …for young audiences encountering the story for the first time, The Witches should cast a spell, while older viewers will enjoy the contrasting comic approaches of Hathaway and Spencer doing what they do best. More of a taste of the other witches’ personalities would have been welcome, but with such a lip-smacking diva turn to dominate the sorcery scenes, few will complain.” The Hollywood Reporter

“Overall The Witches is not a terrible movie. It is, however, a tonally uneven movie that felt unsure of itself, and will no doubt elicit as many riotous shouts of gleeful joy from its audience as it will eyerolls and groans. It certainly did for me.” iHorror

“Like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake, Zemeckis turns this beloved, dark story into a campy, weird, yet still fairly entertaining kid-friendly story of accepting oneself. The problem is that it pales in comparison to what came before. Worse yet, it disregards what makes the story a great gateway horror story for kids, choosing to focus on spectacle rather than spookiness or even what’s at the heart of the store.” IGN

” …Zemeckis careens between silly and scary in a way that prevents The Witches from leaning into either of those modes. The big unveiling sequence feels like a Universal theme park version of a nightmare you once had, and there’s nothing the least bit fresh or novel about the antics that ensue once Charlie and his friend Bruno are mouse-ified…” IndieWire

The Witches is certainly bolstered by its performances and visuals (which is to be expected of a Zemeckis production), and while its speedy story will win over young audiences, it could’ve reached new heights had Zemeckis, del Toro, and Barris dared to add a bit more padding. Even the biggest change – setting it in Alabama in the 60s – doesn’t do much to affect the overall story. The Witches can charm fans of the source material, but it ultimately doesn’t offer anything new.” Screen Rant

“You could say that The Witches doesn’t have much in the way of emotional pull, and that there are too few layers to its battle against evil. Yet Anne Hathaway’s performance provides the film with a sick-joke center of gravity, and Zemeckis, sticking to Dahl’s elemental storyline, stages it all with a prankish flair that leaves you buzzed.” Variety

“It’s up to individual children, and their parents, to decide the dividing line between “too scary” and “just scary enough,” and this latest The Witches traverses that grey area with some fun jolts and creepy visuals. But then so does the previous one, and overall, it’s a better movie: Roeg and collaborator Jim Henson’s sensibilities met in the middle to capture Dahl’s misanthropy and wicked take on human behavior in a way this version can’t quite manage.” The Wrap

Cast and characters:

Anne Hathaway … Grand High Witch
Octavia Spencer … Grandmother
Stanley Tucci … Mr Stringer
Chris Rock
Codie-Lei Eastick … Bruno Jenkins
Charles Edwards … Mr Jenkins
Morgana Robinson … Mrs Jenkins
Jahzir Kadeem Bruno
Eugenia Caruso … Consuella
Simon Manyonda … Sous Chef
Jonathan Livingstone … Raymond
Philippe Spall
Zeke Taylor … Danny Wests
Eurydice El-Etr … Samantha
Anna Devlin
Paul Leonard … Maitre’D – Luther
Jon Prophet … Officer Perry
Abi Adeyemi … Candy Witch
Miranda Sarfo Peprah … Young Grandma
Angus Wright … Waiter
Orla O’Rourke … Soairse
Joseph Zinyemba … Basketball Kid
Katie Hardwick … Scandinavian Flying Witch
Me’sha Bryan … Chambermaid
Anastasia Zabarchuk … Versatile Witch

Related:

THE WITCHES (1989) Reviews and overview

Trailer: