Anne Hathaway is the star of a film which entertains, slightly disturbs, and leaves one feeling just a smidge underwhelmed.
It's not an easy task to remake a film which has received critical acclaim (in the form of not just stellar reviews but award show nominations) but luckily 2020's 'The Witches' isn't a complete failure.
Forgetting the fact that the ambitious idea of a remade film based on a book was due for release right in the thick of COVID-19 and needed to be postponed, it has a pretty solid cast and its willingness to shift the perspective to an African-American child (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno is wonderful) and set the film in Alabama in the '60s is admirable.
Octavia Spencer is harsh but loving as Grandma. She tiptoes around her forlorn grandson for a short time before hardening up and encouraging him to experience the good in life – then, when faced with the task of taking down Anne Hathaway's Grand High Witch, Grandma is laser-focused on her end goal. It's gorgeous to watch her nuanced persona.
Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway's twisted (and genuinely at times quite terrifying. . . The wide-eyed smile!) interpretation of the Grand High Witch is the highlight of the film. A perfect children's villain – in my opinion – is one who moves effortlessly between scary and hilarious (think Yzma from 'The Emperor's New Groove') and Anne nails this dichotomy.
It's not Roald Dahl's story which is at fault in this remake – it's the execution of it. Something is missing here. Maybe it's the lack of depth when it comes to the witches (I would have loved to see more of them!) or the at times cringey script – but there's something not quite right and it's frustrating to not know exactly what that might be.
With the shift from '80s England to '60s Alabama, it could have really paid off for there to be a racism element, for all the witches to be white, which for a second seemed like the direction it was taking – until women of colour appeared as part of the coven. This would have been a very interesting thing to focus on, especially in a time where white privilege and the unforgiving 'Karen' figure is so prevalent.
Regardless of weak execution here and there and a few missed opportunities, 'The Witches' is passable and pretty fun. It didn't seem to want to push many (any?) boundaries, and almost seemed aware that its predecessor was incapable of being overtaken in praise and acclaim. For this, I appreciate it.
There's no trying too hard, and hey, if you appreciate a good villain, 'The Witches' is worth sitting through just for some of Anne Hathaway's hilariously terrifying moments.