Films I Neglected To Review: Only The YoungBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/30/20 01:45:16
Please enjoy short reviews of "Spell," "Us Kids" and "The Witches."
I think that the idea behind "Spell" was to tap into the recent upsurge in horror cinema from black filmmakers such as Jordan Peele but it misses the mark by a mile. For starters, the influence of "Misery" hangs heavily over the proceedings and Kurt Wimmer's screenplay doesn't really bring anything of interest to the proceedings--there are way too many scenes involving Marquis surreptitiously sneaking around the house and then trying to get back into bed before being discovered and the black magic aspect is handled more like a heavy-handed gimmick than anything else. There are plenty of gruesome bits here and there--the standout being the one where Marquis discovers the true source of his injured foot--but virtually nothing in the way of tension or suspense. The performances are all over the map as well--while Hardwick goes about his work in as straightforward a manner as possible under the circumstances, Devine goes all out with an eye-rolling, scenery-chewing turn that is so over the top that there are times when it drifts uncomfortably close to caricature. I also confess to being a tad disturbed by what seems to be the ultimate message of the film, which appears to be designed to point out that those who try to escape the circle of violence are doomed and only those who resort to it can possibly succeed and survive. Granted, it could be argued that maybe I am putting too much thought into something like "Spell," a film clearly designed only to lure in Halloween audiences before quickly fading from view. My response to that would be to say that if those involved with it had themselves put more thought into it, perhaps these issues wouldn’t have turned up in the first place.
Although the screenplay by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro (who was once scheduled to do a stop-motion animation version of the story) relocates the action from Europe to Alabama circa 1968, the basic premise is still the same. A recently orphaned boy whose name is never disclosed (Jahzir Bruno) is taken in by his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) and after an unsettling encounter with a strange woman offering candy, Grandma informs him that the woman in question was a witch--not only do they exist, they hate children and are determined to kidnap them and turn them into animals. The boy and his grandmother go off on a trip to a fancy old hotel but unfortunately, it is also the site of an international witches convention. Inevitably, the boy runs afoul of the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway), who transforms him and another kid into mice, which she and her minions plan to do to children throughout the world. After getting back to Grandma and convincing her of what has happened, they race against time to stop the witches from their dastardly plan and hopefully finding a way to reverse him back into human form.
This version of "The Witches" has three things in its favor. Although she never suggests the casual menace that Huston brought to the role of the Grand High Witch, Hathaway certainly throws herself into the part headfirst and her performance is oftentimes a cheerfully outrageous hoot. Additionally, this version does restore the original ending of the book, though it then immediately undercuts it by tacking on a disco dance party before the end credits. (Don’t ask.) Finally, Zemeckis has made worse films than this, as the poor souls who somehow made it through "Welcome to Marwen." Other than that, the film is an occasionally competent but more often innocuous work that is long on special effects but short of the kind of charm and excitement that cannot be generated with an array of state-of-the-art computers. By comparison, the effects in the earlier film may seem relatively tatty by today's standards but since that film also made room for plenty of charm and style--not too mention just enough creepiness to stick in the mind for a long time afterwards--contemporary viewers are not likely to notice. If you are looking simply for a film that will easily distract little kids (though perhaps not too little) who have been denied trick-or-treating this year for a couple of hours, this new version of "The Witches" will more or less fit the bill. Now if you are more concerned with finding a film that those kids might genuinely love and embrace, even if it does terrify them at times, then you should seek out the 1990 version and forget this one entirely, which I suspect most people will be doing before too long anyway.
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