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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

[Review] ‘The Witches’ Reimagines a Classic With Whimsical Dark Fantasy and an Insane Anne Hathaway Performance

Ask anyone who grew up with Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s The Witches, and they’ll fondly recall Anjelica Huston’s imposing portrayal of the Grand High Witch and the gnarly practical effects of the witches. Both left an indelible mark on impressionable minds, serving as potent gateway horror. Now, almost thirty years to the day after The Witches’ initial theatrical adaptation comes a new take that adheres a bit more faithfully to Dahl’s work while reimagining the eponymous antagonists. A whimsical dark fantasy with a terrifying new creature design and an insane, scene-chewing performance contributes to a charming adaptation that will capture the imaginations and hearts of a new generation.

Chris Rock opens the film as an unseen narrator, teaching a group of children about the evils of witches. To hit his message home, he recounts his childhood battle with the evil creatures. It begins with the traumatic loss of his parents around his eighth Christmas and the subsequent bond that he forges with his Grandmother (Octavia Spencer) as she slowly pulls him from his depression. Credited merely as Hero Boy (Jahzir Bruno), our plucky protagonist travels with his Grandmother to a seaside luxury resort to escape after a harrowing encounter with a witch. Much to their misfortune, though, they’ve chosen the precise location where the witches have congregated; the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) is unveiling her nefarious new potion to eradicate all children.

The story beats hit the same notes as Roeg’s adaptation, and, well, the novel, meaning that there aren’t any narrative surprises in store for much of the film. Director Robert Zemeckis, who is also credited as the screenwriter along with Guillermo del Toro and Kenya Barris, spends a little more time fleshing out the relationship between Hero and Grandmother. More specifically, it gives more insight into Grandmother’s history with witches and witchcraft. All of which goes a long way in establishing the emotional stakes and rooting interest before the pair arrive at the fateful hotel. Once they do, reality gives way to a tonally different movie; the Grand High Witch doesn’t just bring a horde of witches with her but tongue-firmly-in-cheek dark fantasy mischief.

Spencer brings the heart as the sage-like Grandmother, but Hathaway opts to make this movie entirely hers with an over-the-top turn as the Grand High Witch. She isn’t content to simply chew-scenery; she gobbles it up with reckless abandon. No one is having as good of a time in this movie as Hathaway, and that’s clear from her first introductory speech to her wards as she unmasks and reveals her real face. It’s not just Hathaway ensuring her version is far removed from Huston, but it also serves as a reminder to the film’s youthful audience that this villain might be scary, but the movie itself isn’t.

Described as demons, the design for the witches is creative. The unhinged jaws, intentionally snake-like, serve as nightmare fuel on its own, but there are a few more surprises in store that lend to intense chase sequences for Hero Boy and his new friends. Sure, it’s handled via VFX, not practical, but it’s rendered well and won’t matter in the slightest to the target demographic. VFX gives a bit more freedom in the action sequences in specific scenarios.

Zemeckis and the screenwriters might stick closer to Dahl’s vision, but they also give a more satisfying climax than Roeg’s version. The 1990 film is excellent, but as intimidating as Huston was in the role, she was easily defeated in one fell swoop. Expect this new take to get a bit more ambitious and allow Hathaway to stretch her claws further. It does run a little long, especially for its target audience, but its propulsive energy keeps things lively and entertaining.

With a storyline mostly relegated to a single location, it’s through Hathaway that The Witches feels larger-than-life. And it’s through Spencer and Bruno that it hits all the affecting notes. Zemeckis gives his flourish to the source material, and he showcases why Dahl was such a fantastic storyteller- Dahl never talked down to children in his stories. Good may triumph over evil, but, like life, that can come with battle scars. For all the mischievous whimsy, there’s an authentic poignancy to the underlying message.

The Witches is a bubbling cauldron of dark fantasy, humor, heart, and downright silliness thanks to an insane portrayal of the Grand High Witch. The witches’ new design can be frightening, but the performances strike up the needed balance for a film aimed at kids. 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. The setting may be a summery beach resort, but The Witches makes for a spooky Halloween surprise with the potential to become a new perennial favorite.

The Witches will be available on HBO Max on October 22, 2020. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3637225/review-the-witches-reimagines-roald-dahls-classic-novel-whimsical-dark-fantasy-insane-performance-anne-hathaway/

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