The Witches

  • 07 Nov - 13 Nov, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

The Witches is Robert Zemeckis' captivating remake of the 1990 film of the same name. Here, Anne Hathaway fills the shoes of the Grand High Witch with her own flamboyant wickedness. While the unnamed protagonist is an eight-year-old African American boy from Chicago (Jahzir Bruno), orphaned in a car accident and sent to live with his Grandma (Octavia Spencer) in small-town Alabama.

Grandma’s detailed knowledge of witches, numerology and other mystical arcana ties in with her community reputation as a healer, using herbs, potions and homespun remedies passed down over generations.

A grocery-store encounter with a strange woman wearing a snake as an accessory and offering him candy (Josette Simon) rattles the boy. Sensing the danger, Grandma calls in a favour from a cousin and whisks them off to the ritzy Grand Orleans Imperial Island Hotel on the Gulf of Mexico. She figures they'll be safe there because it's a resort for rich white folks and witches only prey on the poor and overlooked.

But their arrival coincides with a convention of the International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, presided over with withering hauteur by Hathaway's all-powerful queen bee.

The big set-piece, as it was in the Roeg film, is the ballroom gathering witnessed by the young hero, during which the Grand High Witch outlines her plan to have her minions open candy stores across the country, selling poisoned treats that will turn children into mice.

Having demonstrated her rodent programme on portly English kid Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick), the Grand High Witch then sniffs out the hidden presence of the young hero, who gets a massive dose of her mouse-making potion and narrowly avoids being killed as he scuttles down a ventilation shaft pursued by her infinitely extendable arms. Together with the protagonist's pet mouse Daisy, who is also revealed to be a transformed child, the three critters enlist Grandma in an attempt to reverse the spell and thwart the witches' evil plan.

With Spencer spending much of her screen time in the latter half interacting with three CG mice, the film slips into a more juvenile groove and the plotting becomes a bit more herky-jerky. But the hotel dining room chaos as they turn the tables on the witches is raucous fun, even if the subsequent showdown with the Grand High Witch is slightly underwhelming, especially after Hathaway has chomped on the scenery with such gusto.

Still, 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.