Director Robert Zemeckis remains true to his recent line and also delivers with his new edition of the Roald Dahl classic WITCHES WITCHES a computer effects spectacle that, considering the original, remains surprisingly edgy. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Witches (USA/MEX 2020)
The plot summary
End of 1967: An orphan boy (Jahzir Bruno) moves to the rural town of Demopolis in Alabama with his loving grandmother (Octavia Spencer). When the boy and his grandmother meet some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly devilish witches, they wisely transport the young hero to an opulent seaside resort. Unfortunately, they arrive at exactly the same time that the High Grand Witch of the World (Anne Hathaway) has gathered her companions from all over the globe – under false identities – to realize her nefarious plans: with the help of chocolate laced with a magical tincture , they want to turn all the children on earth into mice…
Director Robert Zemeckis is almost 70 years old. Where other filmmakers of his age turn a blind eye to the technical innovations that modern (blockbuster) cinema brings with it, Zemeckis has always kept up with the times. Right at the very beginning of his career, with “Back to the Future” and “The Wrong Game with Roger Rabbit,” he made full use of his technical capabilities in order to stage his stories in exactly the way that came to mind. Even if he was allowed to pay a fair amount of tuition at times; Keyword “The Polar Express”. The difference between then and now, however, is getting used to it. The use of CGI is now common practice and you have seen pretty much everything on the big screen – in the past, Zemeckis was able to set standards with his work. But perhaps the filmmaker simply doesn’t need that anymore today. However, he is still clearly having fun. After a challenging hybrid of puppet adventure and war drama (“Welcome to Marwen”), he now ventures into a new edition of Nicolas Roeg’s “Hexen hexen”. For Zemeckis, the best starting position: 30 years later, with the latest technical possibilities, the Roald Dahl template can be handled in a completely different way than it was in the early 1990s. It’s understandable if you fear that the remake would lack the charm. But the “Hexen hexen” from 2020 still turns out to be surprisingly successful.
The little orphan boy (Jahzir Bruno) has no idea what his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) will soon tell him…
“When the Gondolas Wear Mourning” director Nicolas Roeg has created a cult classic with his version of “Hexen hexen”, but not necessarily in the way that he and especially the studio Warner Bros. might have imagined. Viewers at the time who knew the book – or any other children’s book by Roald Dahl – should not have been so surprised at the macabre methods Roeg used to unleash his interpretation of “family entertainment” on his audience. As the author of works such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “James and the Giant Peach” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Dahl is known for not relying on cynicism, black humor and so on in his novels, which are inherently aimed at a young readership to forego one or two violent ends. And if you’re now wondering where this quintessence has gone in the numerous Dahl film adaptations, it should be explained that not every studio has the guts that Warner Bros. has with “Hexen Hexen” or “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and for Broad marketing tends to sand off rough edges. At least in the case of the former, there was a receipt straight away; The film flopped at the box office after word got out about how brutal and bitterly evil it was, despite its age rating of 6 years and up. The cult only came over the years, through home theater and streaming releases (the film is currently available on Netflix).
“As the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “James and the Giant Peach” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Dahl is known for not relying on cynicism, black humor and one or the other in his novels, which are also aimed at a young readership To forego violent spikes.”
Certainly: “Hexen hexen” from 1990 is a pretty nasty affair for kids inexperienced with the genre. In particular, the frightening witch faces sometimes place the fantasy film in horror realms – and may have caused sleepless nights for one or two viewers. Anyone who fears that an adaptation to blockbuster conditions from 2020 would automatically mean sanding down the rough edges in order to make it more family-friendly and thereby appeal to the largest possible audience is mistaken. Zemeckis’ “Hexen hexen” feels more digital overall, as he relies primarily on computer tricks instead of haptic masquerade, make-up and effects. But if Anne Hathaway (“Poisoned Truth”) in her role as the head of the witches, she opens her mouth so wide that you can see her entire chewing bar (and you think it’s entirely possible that in the next moment she’ll devour the child standing in front of her in one bite!), then it unfolds similarly eerie charm as it did thirty years ago. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the witches’ nasty, distorted faces, but also to their disgusting claws and claws. But Hathaway and her witch clan aren’t just visually impressive. Their self-enjoying, beautiful-horrible and therefore equally fascinating and repulsive attitude is fun, but never leaves any doubt that the women are really nasty people. There is therefore no reason to fear that anyone will be converted to goodness in the course of the film.
Anne Hathaway plays the leader of the witch sisters.
Instead, Zemeckis stages his film as equal parts touching family story and eccentric adventure. Hathaway and Co. are responsible for this same eccentricity, while Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) and newcomer Jahzir Bruno (“The Oath”) sometimes help ground the story. This is hardly possible given the premise and production, but thanks to the two actors who credibly act as loving grandmother and adventurous grandson, “Hexen hexen” has a large portion of heart in the crucial moments. Nevertheless, the screenwriters know Guillermo del Toro (“Shape of Water”)Kenya Barris (“Girls Trip”) and Robert Zemeckis himself can’t always do anything with it. Something always happens during the 103 minutes of the film (which makes the remake almost a quarter of an hour longer than the original); “Hexen hexen” has almost no idle time, but the story itself is sometimes unfocused. While at the beginning it’s about the relationship between grandmother and her grandson, who has suddenly become an orphan, the focus quickly shifts to the relationship between witches and people – and in the last third “Hexen witchen” finally becomes almost a fairy tale contested by three mice, which, thanks to the consistent ending (unlike the original), doesn’t run the risk of being seen as soft-spoken. The film is fun throughout, but you don’t feel like you’re getting any closer to the characters over time. Instead, the fun of the witches’ exalted game and the events getting out of hand pushes the heartfelt core of the story into the background.
“Hathaway and her witch clan are not just visually impressive. Their self-enjoying, beautiful-horrible and therefore both fascinating and repulsive attitude is fun and never leaves any doubt that the women are really nasty people.”
You can’t get enough of the effects that Zemeckis and his crew use here. This doesn’t just apply to the mice that come from the computer, to the amusing human-animal transformations or the much-quoted witch grimaces. But also for other visual gimmicks such as shifted perspectives (“witches witches” is something like the antithesis of “Cats”). In addition, there is a lot of humor in the visual design of the film – although, like the original, it is often bitterly bitter.
Conclusion: Where handmade masks and scary make-up faces used to give you goosebumps, in 2020 it’s mainly shock effects from the computer. But Robert Zemeckis knows how to use this atmospherically and delivers a pleasantly edgy fantasy scarer, just right as an introduction to horror and, in typical Roald Dahl style, both funny and bitterly evil.
The Witches can be seen in USA cinemas from October 29th.