“The Witches” relies on computer-generated imagery (C.G.I.) to achieve the aspects of creativity and fantasy envisioned in Dahl’s novel, along with its creepiness and fear. Instead, the C.G.I. leaves viewers discomforted rather than spellbound. Features like the witches’ three extremely long toes, the line cut across their lips, and the strange red patches covering their bald heads cause unease instead of provoking fear. Depicting the witches as nice ladies with awfully odd physical characteristics does not instill terror, which is the feeling that should have kept the story at bay.
If the problems with “The Witches” ended with just the bad special effects and C.G.I., this review would be a lot easier to write. Unfortunately, the film neglects developing the main threat of the movie, the witches, in a compelling way. It leaves the audience puzzled by the main character’s fear of witches rather than being frightened. Instead, all the energy is focused on developing a subpar Grand High Witch. Consequently, all the other witches come across as simply throw-away cardboard cutout characters that serve no purpose other than being the Grand High Witch’s fan club. One of the largest contributions that a witch other than the Grand High Witch makes is an awkwardly awful attempt at trickery, which makes the entire witch community seem, frankly, useless.
To make things even worse, Anne Hathaway delivers such a mediocre performance of the Grand High Witch, utterly disgracing both the book and Anjelica Huston’s 1990 version of the character. With the producer’s half-hearted attempt to demonize Hathaway’s appearance and her horrible attempt at a European accent to boot, there’s just no way that she could possibly instill the same kind of visceral, heart-wrenching fear that Huston’s portrayal embodied. While Hathaway’s Grand High Witch looked like the deformed amalgamation of Snapchat filters, the 1990 Grand High Witch was truly horrifying to look at: long hooked nose, eyes full of malice sunken deep into their sockets, veiny and wrinkly skin, and to top it off, warts, moles and hair that made the witch’s bald head all the more unsettling to look at. There’s no denying it—Houston’s performance truly stands out as superior on all levels.
While the witches in the 1990 adaptation were given more screen time and personality, they also embodied such large presences that the audience could understand how dangerous they were. In one scene, a random witch traps a young girl in a painting, forcing her to suffer through years of isolation as her family remains unaware of her plight. The sheer thought of being subject to that inescapable fate was both bone-chilling and memorable. While the remake relies on the Grand High Witch alone to make a strong impression on the audience, the book and 1990 adaptation scare their viewers through developing the witches both as a collective and as individuals, thus making the concept of a witch itself seem more menacing and formidable.
Although Dahl’s original plot covered a course of emotions, ranging from grief to bravery, many emotional moments displayed in the 2020 movie were rushed and skimmed over, creating a choppy storyline. During one melancholy moment, after an acquaintance of the boy, Bruno, is turned into a mouse by the Grand High Witch, Bruno’s parents storm out in disbelief when they see the transformation. Suddenly, the scene is interrupted by another character, who calls for his grandma’s attention to talk about an unrelated accomplishment in fighting against the witches. Since this movie obviously prioritized revenge on the witches as the biggest issue, Bruno’s scene was never truly fleshed out. They might as well have cut out the scene with Bruno’s parents. The multiple superficial scenes distract the audience from fully piecing together any cohesive message from the film.
The 1990 film was considered a classic children’s horror movie. It was a story imbued with just the right amount of scary content to make it feel genuinely unsettling, yet one that also maintained an entertaining tone and sprinkled in fantastical plot points. However, the 2020 remake fails to capture the essence of whimsical and dark. The uncomfortable-to-look-at C.G.I., inaccurate characterization of the villains, and bad pacing of the film culminate in creating one of the worst Halloween remakes of all time, and it deserves a 2/5 stars at best. That being said, the overall negative reception of “The Witches” should send a clear message to Hollywood producers: not only do remakes do nothing to contribute to the genius of the originals, audiences should also never, ever be subjected to Anne Hathaway’s terrible European accent again.