'The Witches' Review
It’s unclear why director Robert Zemeckis, co-writer Guillermo del Toro, producer Alfonso Cuaron and Warner Bros. thought a new version of “The Witches” was necessary. The 1983 Ronald Dahl novel is not one of his most celebrated works. The 1990 movie starring Anjelica Huston, though liked by critics, only made $10 million at the box office.
What is clear is why WB has decided to stick the new take on “The Witches” on HBO Max instead of releasing it in theaters (now or later). This is the most bizarre and disappointing film of 2020.
The story is set in the early ’60s. Chris Rock handles the narration. He’s the voice of a 9-year old boy who, as the movie begins, loses his parents in a car accident. He’s taken in by Grandma (Octavia Spencer), moving to her home in Alabama (a major difference from the novel and first movie: this one is set in the U.S. not the U.K.). Grandma tells “Hero Boy” (Jahzir Bruno) all about the existence of evil witches — that they’re everywhere — and how one of them turned her childhood friend into a chicken. Soon, the two suspect that one may be trying to ruin their lives, too.
So they head to a hotel… and it just happens to be the same hotel where all these witches are coming together for a conference. What are the odds?! The goal of the sorceresses is to turn every child into a rat.
The Grand High Witch is played by Anne Hathaway, who delivers a terrible Russian (?) accent and pauses in between every word of every sentence. Every one of Hathaway’s scenes is cringeworthy. She constantly screaming, and special effects used on her face make her presence even more disturbing — but not in a good way. The only points “The Witches” really get are for creepiness.
Hathaway’s “Devil Wears Prada” co-star Stanley Tucci shows-up as the hotel manager. He’s absolutely wasted here but is not immune to equally embarrassing moments, including a late in the movie crotch gag. 52-year-old Kristin Chenoweth voices a human girl recently turned into a mouse that begins as a pet and then… well… who knows how she ends up.
And there are so many other problems with “The Witches”. The script is completely explanatory. Characters announce everything that’s about to happen — and then it happens. This eliminates any sense of wonder and anticipation. Scenes are painfully drawn-out, most with no payoff. And the tone is erratic — going from juvenile to darkly somber (especially in the final five minutes). It’s the most jarring epilogue of any movie this year.
“The Witches” is certainly a fantasy (think “Stuart Little” meets “Beetlejuice”). But it’s still puzzling how all these extremely talented and accomplished movie-makers could come together and concoct this brew.