The Witches review: Watch this dumpster fire of a movie at your own peril

Anne Hathaway in Roald Dahl's Witches. Photograph by HBO Max
Anne Hathaway in Roald Dahl's Witches. Photograph by HBO Max /

The Witches is a messy, bloated, and painfully predictable remake of a 1990s classic that manages to suck any and all joy out of Roald Dhal’s magical story.

Not all movies are winners. Not all movies are even passable. For many people, there’s a certain kind of fun to be had when you pop in a less-than-amazing film to make fun of and enjoy yourself at the expense of bad filmmaking. And then there’s The Witches.

It’s the type of movie that’s so bad it’s not even worthwhile to make fun of. Instead of balancing humor and horror like the original (oddly frightening) 1990s film, or taking things in a more magical direction in the vein of Roald Dahl’s original book, Robert Zemeckis’ The Witches is a failure from every angle. Unfunny, uninspired, and a painful example of bad casting, there isn’t a single aspect of this film we want to remember.

Starring Octavia Spencer, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Jahzir Bruno, The Witches follows a little boy (Bruno) who moves in with his ailing grandmother (Spencer) after his parents are killed in a freak accident. After being spooked by seeing what she believed to be a witch in their hometown, Charlie and his grandmother pack their things and move into a high-brow hotel, only to discover a coven of witches lurking on its premises.

The coven, led by the Grand High Witch (Hathaway,) is intent on getting rid of all the world’s children, and they do so by turning them into mice via a potion. After Charlie himself is turned into a mouse, he and his grandmother team up to dispense with the witches once and for all.

Though it sounds harsh, when we say there isn’t a single aspect of this film worth remembering, we’re not exaggerating. The Witches could be considered a remake of the 1990 classic starring Anjelica Houston, or an adaption of Roald Dahl’s 1983 book, but in either case, it falls completely flat.

Both the original book and the 90s film rely heavily on black humor as a major selling point – Dahl’s signature witty writing runs the fine balance between being appropriate for children and also maintaining their parent’s interests. Thanks to Anjelica Houston’s performance and Allan Scott’s screenplay, the 1990 film is able to near seamlessly walk that line as well. This new Zemeckis incarnation decidedly does not.

There is no black humor to be found in this film – any attempts at humor (which by and large fall flat) are through physical comedy, and outlandish, uncanny-valley style animation. It’s like Zemeckis has a severe misunderstanding of what makes Dahl’s work so well-loved.

Instead of trying to emphasize the strengths of the original book, he simply plows ahead with his own idea of what is ‘entertaining’, which is a by-the-numbers children’s adventure film devoid of all joy and humor. By watering down with his own brand of filmmaking, he guts The Witches of all the original charm, and the bizzaro factor of the original film, leaving it up to the cast to try and make the most out of what they’ve been given.

And try, do they ever. Octavia Spencer is the film’s central protagonist – an old southern grandmother who believes in the power of home remedies. As a child, she had a terrifying run-in with a witch, and ever since has been on the lookout lest one come back again. Although she’s given a solid chunk of backstory, the character herself is incredibly one-note, and really just goes wherever the plot needs her to be. There isn’t much personality to speak of other than “sassy old grandma”, which is unfortunate given how committed Spencer is. Jahzir Bruno who plays Spencer’s grandson fares a little better, the tragic opening scene of the film featuring his parents’ death is one of the few highlights. He brings a surprising amount of emotional nuance to the scene, but his character is almost entirely gutted into a stock adventure child after being transformed into a mouse.

The Grand Witch Herself, Anne Hathaway, is a perplexing case. She does seem to be enjoying herself immensely, but the issue is that her performance isn’t good. Anjelica Houston is a tough act to follow, but we wouldn’t like Hathaway’s performance even if she wasn’t compared to Morticia herself. As the Grand Witch, Hathaway tries a goofy accent on for size, but despite all her posturing, posing, and dramatic speeches, she’s neither intimidating nor funny. The film’s terrible CGI effects don’t help either – they almost remind us of the cringe-worthy effects of Artemis Fowl from earlier this year.

Stanley Tucci is the last major cast member, and we can’t help but feel plain bad for the man. He’s an incredibly talented actor, but this is an utterly thankless role. His character, (the hotel’s manager) is barely in the film as it is, but when he’s there he’s given no time to shine. Tucci is the film’s (literal) punching bag, and an actor of his caliber really deserves more than to be bit in the crotch by an animated witch-turned-rat.

Unfunny, unoriginal, and painfully predictable are the three ways we can best describe Robert Zemeckis’ half-baked and utterly grating remake of The Witches. In a shocking feat, nearly every character is miscast and underwritten, resulting in a total waste of time we can’t recommend to anyone in good conscience. If you’re desperate to get your fill of The Witches this Halloween, do yourself a favor and re-read the book or watch the original movie instead. You can thank us later.

Next. Martin Eden review: Luca Marinelli is dazzling. dark

Have you seen The Witches? What’s your favorite Halloween movie? Sound off in the comments below.