The Witches 2020: More Witchy Power, But Less Scares (Review)

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The Witches: the latest Hollywood remake.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about this one from the beginning. I loved the Roald Dahl book as a kid, and the 1990 film adaptation properly terrified me. (I rewatched it last weekend in preparation for the new movie’s release. And you know what? Anjelica Huston peeling her face off is still pretty effing scary.)

So does Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch compare to Huston’s? Is The Witches 2020 worth your time? Check out our review to find out.

Note: this review contains some spoilers – jump to the Bottom Line for the spoiler-free take.

What Works in The Witches…

If you’re here reading about a new adaptation of The Witches, you probably already know the basic story from the book or the 90s film. So, let’s start with the best ways this adaptation of The Witches elevates the story.

First, it’s worth mentioning Hathaway’s Grand High Witch displays way more powers than Huston’s did. She’s unusually strong, she can hover (fly?), and she can stretch her arms like an evil Mr. Fantastic. I don’t know if all of these things make her scarier, per say, but they do make her more intimidating. More of an adversary. I really liked these additions.

Similarly, I like that in this adaptation, the Grand High Witch doesn’t fall victim to the spiked soup ploy that takes out the other witches. Again, this reinforces her as a stronger villain. Plus, getting to see her go personally head-to-head with Grandma and the trio of mice makes her defeat more cathartic.

Fans of the original novel will likely enjoy that the strange forced resolution tacked onto the end of the 90s movie was left off. No one suddenly shows up to turn the mice back into kids – they’re going to live out their lives that way.

The mice in The Witches

On the less impactful (but nice to have) side, I like the look of The Witches. There’s a lot of fun bright colors – in the wardrobe, in the settings, in the displays of magic. 

…And What Doesn’t

There’s a lot of smaller things in The Witches that I just feel meh about. The new setting in ‘60s Alabama. The narrative framing device. The pet mouse-who’s-secretly-a-transformed-child. None of these things are bad, exactly. They just don’t seem to contribute to the story in an impactful way.

But the biggest issue with The Witches is the scare factor. Even though Hathaway’s Grand High Witch feels powerful, she’s not as scary as I wanted her to be. It could be that I just don’t care for the redesign here – I’m sort of ambivalent about the Joker scars/Venom teeth combo, and I don’t like the weird raptor-claw hands at all. This Grand High Witch can definitely be creepy, but I didn’t have that big “wow” moment of terror that was such an iconic part of the original film. I hate to type the words “I missed the face peeling”…but yeah. I missed the face peeling.

The Witches: The Bottom Line

The Witches poster

The Witches isn’t as scary as its 90s adaptation, and works best if you can avoid comparing the two. On its own, it’s fine – creepy and fun enough to be worth a watch, if not as memorable as its predecessor.

Rating: 7/10

The Witches hits HBO Max on October 22.

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