The film begins with a narration (surprisingly by Chris Rock), who talks to a group of young kids and warns them about the existence of witches. The film then goes back to the year 1967 and introduces us to a young boy (played by Jahzir Bruno) who sadly lost both of his parents in a car accident. The boy is taken in by his Grandma (Octavia Spencer), who does everything within her power to raise him and encourage him at every step. Grandma even talks to the boy about her past encounters with a witch when she was a young girl, as she suspects there is a witch near their very own home.
Soon, Grandma and the boy travel to a nearby hotel to hide from the witch stalking them. But little do they both realise that the hotel they have just checked into is also the exact location of a witches convention, including the most powerful of them all, The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway).
For the record, growing up, I was a massive fan of the original feature (released back in 1990), and I recall watching the film on VHS multiple times. I’m personally not too familiar with the novel by Roald Dahl other than the basic plot. Thankfully, for better or worse, The Witches 2020 attempts to be different from the 1990 release in many areas. The significant use of CGI is one area in particular and the extensive changes to the film’s first and third act. Actress Octavia Spencer is easily the highlight of this film, and she always delivers a warm and kind presence to the big screen.
I was excited to see what Anne Hathaway brings as the High Witch. I can see this actress is making it her own and not a copy of the 1990 film. Still, this villainous character is more reminiscent of animation and comes across cartoon-like instead of scary and threatening. Things such as stretching her arms down drain pipes is one of many new cheesy additions that makes it feel cartoonish, and I wasn’t a fan of them.
The CGI is also questionable. Some CGI moments work well, but when actors and CGI interact in the same scene, it’s far too noticeable and looks fake. The CGI work was distracting during the majority of the film. The film’s soundtrack is pleasing, but I swear some of the melodies sounded awfully like Back to the Future. Perhaps this could be at the request of the film’s director Robert Zemeckis (who also directed Back to the Future)?
The world in this film feels extremely small. Other than a handful of witches, leading characters and concierges in a hotel, no one else seems to be at this hotel or present in this film. The plot is also disappointing. I found it hard to accept that someone would run away from a witch to a hotel (why a hotel?) only to find more witches. The witches are obviously not human, but the characters who interact with them seem to think they are perfectly normal, which is cheesy to see.
As I watched the film, I felt this filmmaker was honestly unsure if they were aiming to make this movie a kid’s film or a horror film for adults. There are times where I thought a family might enjoy watching together, and then some moments are too horrific and shocking, including a scene that includes the High Witch getting her fingers cut off by a high-speed fan. This combination doesn’t quite work for me.
My final disappointment was that the talented Stanley Tucci feels wasted in this role and is never given enough screen time even though he is top-billed.
Overall, I can typically find positive things to say about any remake, but The Witches is a disappointing remake with no reason to exist. I can appreciate some elements, such as Octavia Spencer and the fact Anna Hathaway is trying to bring something different to the big screen. Still, the way the villain has been written makes me unsure if I am watching a horror movie or a children’s film. The film’s CGI was a significant distraction and looks far too fake, making this film rather hard to enjoy.
The Witches (2020) is Available on Blu-ray & DVD!