The Witches Review: Another bland and pointless remake living in the shadows of its material
Both as an adaptation of author Roald Dahl’s The Witches and a remake of Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 classic of the same name, writer/director Robert Zemeckis’ new adaptation simply pales in comparison the material that came before.
The story pretty much hits on the same beats that anyone familiar with this story would now. The film follows a young boy (Jahzir Bruno) that’s sent to live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) after his parents die in a car accident. Although he is initially quiet since he’s still reeling from the death of his parents, the boy and his grandmother begin to bond. However, as his grandmother starts to get sick, the two travel to a luxury hotel to be in a more comfortable environment and end up finding more than they bargained for. Just as his grandmother discloses a painful memory of her friend being turned into a chicken by a witch, the boy sees that a coven of witches, lead by a terrifying Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway), are staying at the hotel and looking to turn children into mice. Looking to get the witches out of the hotel, the boy must find a way to get the upper hand before he’s turned into a mouse and squashed.
When thinking back to Roeg’s adaptation, one of the things that makes it stand out, aside from Huston’s great performance, is the use of practical effects to create a true horror experience. The sequence of the witches revealing their true form is iconic and the visual were legitimately skin-crawling and creepy as hell. Even the stuff for the mice talking and interacting weren’t half bad and it gave the film a distinct and memorable look that this remake is severely lacking. Look, I’m not one to compare an original and remake like crazy, but this film feels like it has it coming since it chooses to make cheaper choices with its use of mediocre CGI.
The looks of the witches’ true form really don’t differ from how they outwardly look and it honestly pales in comparison to 90s adaptation in terms of pure horror. Sure, they still wear wigs and cover their strange hands and feet, but the grotesquely elongated noses are gone and the “creepy smiles” these witches have just isn’t that impactful. The scars are so obvious that it’s legitimately shocking that no one notices or questions it and the effect of their elongated smiles is just the same stuff that the IT movies have done. Even the effects for the transformation of people turning into mice just isn’t that special or as horror inducing. They have the same kind of violent shake as the original, but then they just turn it into this smoking magical transformation rather than a slow, skin-crawling turn and it just leaves you wanting something more. This adaptation definitely goes for a more family-friendly approach visually, which is fine, but it’s constantly trying to make it seem like it’s reaching the same bar to dazzle viewers with visuals that simply don’t compare.
Even the approach to the story and performances just don’t hit the same marks and try too hard to be special when it’s easy to see that they’re not. While I’m a fan of Chris Rock, his narration is totally distracting and unnecessary here. His narration voice works for something like Everybody Hates Chris because it’s something personal to him, but here it just doesn’t fit and catches you off guard in a weird way at the start and is hard to take seriously in serious moments. Most of the performances don’t really make much of an impression, especially with Spencer just being the same kind of character we’ve seen from her time and time again, but Hathaway attempts to stand out in every scene and it’s not only always in the best of light. Her accent, whatever it is, is way too much and pretty much consumes your entire take of the character aside from her hating kids. She just doesn’t carry this strong screen presence like she usually does and it’s in big part to the script not offering much to hold her up.
There’s a good chunk of the dialogue that’s ripped right from the 90’s version, it’s nearly word for word during the first witch meeting, and even when the film tries to take things in a new direction it just leads to more confusion. The film instantly breaks its own rules with having the mice be able to talk to human even though grandma’s friend who was turned into a chicken couldn’t. It’s actually works against the film to not give its characters any names as it add them being unmemorable. The ending really diverts from the more intriguing ending of the original and the idea of the boy and grandma hunting down the rest of the witches is basically ditched entirely. Instead, we’re given an ending with really no message and no conclusion to the children being turned into mice so it essentially totally loses the point/issue of them turning into mice. Not to mention, the music at the end is a painful reminder of how on the nose the music really is in this film.
The Witches is unfortunately just another one of those remakes that takes too much away from its source material without giving anything back to make itself stand out. It’s another bland retelling of a classic that will be stuck in the shadows it’s ultimately trying to escape and takes away some of the great elements of horror for family-friendly fun that’s totally forgettable.