Synopsis: In a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, a sheltered teenager must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico.
Stars: Gideon Adlon, Abigail Cowen, Christian Camargo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Echo Campbell, Lulu Antariksa, Ashley Bell, Sadie Stratton
Director: Elle Callahan
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: Warts on noses, pointy hats, green skin, broomsticks, cauldrons boiling over with toil and trouble, and black cats as their only companions…boy, witches have sure had it hard over the years and that’s just in the plain old nursery rhymes and kids’ stories that are told time and time again. In the movies, they’ve gotten a real bum rap and it’s been awhile since the spell casting dames have had a film that took them somewhat seriously released widely (or to widespread acclaim). An updated take on The Craft was better than expected and while it disappointingly came and went without much more than a puff of smoke, with its diverse casting it did signal there was space being made for different kinds of stories to be told.
In this new era that bolsters post-modern feminism, it would seem that Elle Callahan’s Witch Hunt would make for a good entry into this canon of new witchy business but alas, the high concept devised is rendered null because while it attempts holding a mirror to important subjects through the supernatural, it only winds up fogging it up thanks to its own hot and heavy breathing. Undone but its own thesis, despite game performances and so-so production values, Witch Hunt dissolves faster than a love spell cast by the harvest moon’s dying light.
High school student Claire (Gideon Adlon) is having recurring dreams of a woman being burned at the stake and it’s no wonder why she’s on edge with this dramatic horror foretold. Her mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell, The Purge: Election Year) has made a practice of using their out of the way California country home to harbor witches being hunted down by ruthless government agents (including head bad guy Christian Camargo, Europa Report) who has banned their kind. The arrival of two new young witches sparks something in Claire, awakening powers deep down that she’s been too scared to admit were growing. Grappling with wanting to lead the life of a normal teen but knowing she has a responsibility to protect her family, Claire learns more about history to secure her future.
No one should have to point out the kind of appalling blunders Witch Hunt makes drawing parallels between a fictionalized modern world where magic is all around and witchcraft punishable by death and real events like abolitionism and the Holocaust. (Hello! Hiding people persecuted by the government in walls and smuggling them through secret networks.) Adding insult to injury, the movie is painfully white so the connecting of these dots is all the more cringeworthy.
One shouldn’t fault the actors for these stumbles, and all make a decent showing throughout. Callahan, who also directed the at-first intriguing but ultimately flat thriller Head Count, should have explored more outside the box and been as creative with her cast as she was in concept. Even with a limited budget this could have worked better with more of an overall recognized conscience. While it’s not all together scary per se and does stray into aimless territory halfway in, the production quality is higher than you might expect. If only it wasn’t so problematic in its execution.