UPDATE: I added another good review from filmthreat. 🙂
I’ve found more great reviews this morning, so I am making another post with them. So happy about all these positive responses to the movie.
Elizabeth Mitchell is also excellent as the caring, in-over-her-head Martha. When she admonishes Hawthorne for bursting into her daughter’s room without a warrant, her love for her family is immediately evident.
Apart from Adlon, the film also stars Fate The Winx Saga actor Abigail Cowen and Lost star Elizabeth Mitchell. And boy, do they deliver!
Mitchell is great in the role. She’s compassionate and protective, and when a neighbour comes over and bad-mouths witches, Mitchell is equally convincing switching her tune to be a like-minded bigot and tell her what she wants to hear.
Shay (Echo Campbell), Martha (Elizabeth Mitchel), Fiona (Abi Cowen), and other supporting characters are just as impressive.
New good review:
SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Writer-director Elle Callahan’s Witch Hunt is the best X-Men movie ever made, and it has nothing to do with that franchise at all. In the United States, witches and witchcraft, which are real in this universe, are outlawed. So, witches and their families try to flee south to Mexico, where just existing as themselves isn’t a crime. However, the Bureau of Witch Investigation (BWI) rounds them up before they cross the ever-higher wall to freedom.
As such, several well-meaning people have opened their homes to help hide witches on their journey to safety; Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) is one such person. She hides witches in the walls of her house until “water jug” delivery drivers show up to drop off or pick up “water jugs.” Martha’s younger sons, twins Corey (Cameron Crovetti) and George (Nicholas Crovetti), aren’t too phased by the ever-rotating people in and out of the house, though they make little effort to get to know or play with their guests.
Teenager Claire (Gideon Adlon) is not pleased with her mother’s ways, knowing how dangerous it is to harbor witches. Things become even tenser at home when sisters Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and Shae (Echo Campbell) are forced to stay longer than expected. BWI Agent Hawthorne (Christian Camargo) is hot on their trail, but in befriending Fiona and pushing her brothers to play with Shae, Claire discovers her true self.
Witch Hunt is not subtle in the slightest, which might irk some who wish for a more balanced view of socio and political upheaval. But, much like Marvel’s famous series, Callahan is smart enough not to bludgeon the audience in every scene. The politics are laid out in the beginning, and every character acts in accordance to or rebelling against, against those amendments in a way that makes sense for them. A neighbor knocks on the door to drop off a pie or some such, and the way Martha switches gears and parrots the fear of witches back to the lady on her doorstep helps ground the world and magic in as much realism as possible.
While more background history on the hows and whys of making witches and witchcraft illegal (did the Salem Witch Trials turn into a massacre, scaring citizens for all time?) would be nice, Callahan does do a great job of melding the mundane with the mystical. A moment at a bar involving a blackout and floating stools is about the biggest things ever get, which helps the audience believe in this world.
The characters are well-defined and engaging, with motivations and backstories filled in nicely. Now, there is an element to Claire’s arc that is easy to guess, but it is handled very well, and the way it ties into the conclusion makes it more than just a story contrivance. One scene that really defines these people is when Claire and her friends watch a sink test for some classmates suspected of being witches. While no one floats, therefore, they aren’t witches, one of the girls dies. This greatly upsets Claire, though the others are either indifferent or, worse, laugh at her demise. Yes, even though the dead girl wasn’t a witch, these folks are still callous toward her just because she was accused.
Gideon Adlon is fantastic as Claire. She breathes a fiery life into the quiet moments that punctuate her character’s existence. When Claire and Fiona look out the window, gazing at a specific constellation, thanks to Adlon’s performance, it truly feels as if this is the first time someone seems to understand her. Cowen is just as good as the cautious teenaged witch, coming across as fearful and optimistic in equal measure.
Elizabeth Mitchell is also excellent as the caring, in-over-her-head Martha. When she admonishes Hawthorne for bursting into her daughter’s room without a warrant, her love for her family is immediately evident. Camargo is quite menacing as the violence-prone BWI agent whose only goal is eradicating entire peoples.
Callahan’s direction of Witch Hunt balances the horror and magical elements with a coming-of-age drama well. Claire wants to have friends over and is frustrated that she feels she can’t, as she’d have to lie to anyone there. A nightmare sequence that sees Claire climb to the roof of the house is fraught with peril. Of course, the action beat during the climax, the only one to really speak, is intense, as viewers want these characters to escape unharmed.
Witch Hunt works from the opening frame to the final credit fading out. It is a smartly written thriller that plays with serious issues that only have grown more troublesome over the last few years. Elle Callahan balances the tone of the horror elements and Claire’s self-discovery journey excellently, ensuring they complement each other. The cast is perfect, with each actor being believable in their respective part, no matter how small a role.
This is another very great review:
South By Southwest 2021: Elle Callahan’s ‘Witch Hunt’ (2021) Is A Modern-Day Exploration Of Witch Craft
4,5 stars / 5
I think Elle Callahan says it best:
I feel it’s my responsibility as a genre filmmaker to use my art to call attention to what I see around me and weave it into my own stories. As a piece of art, Witch Hunt is a reflection of my love for magic and a projection of how I see the world today.
Callahan, Elle. SXSW 2021.
Witch Hunt Is A ‘Midnighter’ Narrative That Involves Witch Craft?
In some respects, it is a film about witchcraft in the 21st century where witches are alive and well, however they are also controlled as much as possible, living by themselves. Claire (Gideon Adlon) is living with her mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchel), who is kind of a refuge for witches who are in transition to go “over the border.”
Many of them don’t always have the best of luck, such as Shae (Echo Campbell) and Fiona (Abigail Cowen; CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, FATE: THE WINK SAGA), two sisters, whose mother was burned at the stake. Their mother was burned by Hawthorne (Christian Camargo), who is the ‘neighborhood’ witch hunter. There are other plots that tie into the structure, but without spoiling too much as we spoil later on, here is the official SXSW 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.”
From this point on, there may be spoilers, so please be aware as this is our feature review of South by Southwest 2021. This is a “Midnighter” Feature/Spotlight for SXSW. If you have yet to see it, check out Head Count, too.
The concept behind this movie might seem unbelievable, but it works really well. The past ten years have given us witches a bad name; however, within the last two years, we have rediscovered our standing. Witch Hunt is the first film, in quite some time, to feature witch lore, at least seriously. It has been a while since we have had the appeal of The Craft. There are plenty of parodies and B-movies.
What stands out about Witch Hunt is that it emphasizes not only witches but the notion of witches as a minority, which raises the level of discourse unavailable in an ordinary modern-day tale. Witchcraft is one thing, but establishing witches as “other” is always a motif I have wanted to see in some form. It imparts a sense of humanity to the characters. You are attracted to them as a result of who they are and who you may be as well. While I was watching I felt a connection to Fiona because I am a minority in real life. Not in the same regard, but I guess in many ways it is relatable. The idea of social equality is a constant battle people face on a daily basis, so to have that in Witch Hunt about witches is wonderful and in a horror film nonetheless.
I have to say, the scares I experienced were quite jarring, and the ghost witches were especially disturbing in the best way. Witch Hunt features a mixture of good writing, at times challenging, and, at other times, patchy writing — but none that hinders the overall screenplay. I found that the patchy parts were parts I could understand afterward. Even though they didn’t stick for me, they still worked anyway. However, I felt that several of these areas could have had more dialogue or had a few more minutes to provide a bit more mise-en-scene. In an hour and a half, I would have preferred to see a more comprehensive transition from Claire being a witch to her mother realizing it and then to her crossing the wall. I felt, toward the end, it was abrupt. (But, looking back, that could just be me wanting more because I enjoyed it.)
Not jarring, but missing a few pieces of mise-en-scene. Having said that, I thought the screenplay was impressive, so perhaps I was being selfish in that I wanted more of a story between Martha and Claire when she discovered she was a witch. Where they stopped, outside of the house, or in the last ten minutes of the conversation, is where I felt there could have been more or more dialogue presented to illustrate the conversation in its entirety. I wish characters like Jacob (Treva Etienne), who disappeared after the character’s introduction, could have been re-introduced. After the second act, I felt it was left in the first act, however, I liked the overall psychological concept of Martha and her family as a sort of “witch safe haven house.”
I adored the idea of the water company and the concept of the witch being put into a box and transferred in some way. That concept was really great; I would have loved to find out more about how that works. Although movies are subject to time limitations, for future concepts, that idea is really gnarly. A consistent theme in Callahan’s work is that “people are not who they claim to be.” If you have seen Head Count, the film’s central focus is on a member of the group who isn’t actually part of it. This also appears in Witch Hunt, but I will not tell you with whom. It is a lot of fun when you see it (I said “oh sh-t” out loud when I did). That consistent early auteur is wonderful because the motif alone is quite horrifying. Callahan does an excellent job in integrating that motif with an atmosphere that is terrifying. It worked in both films. It is subtle but it is terrifying.
The Directing, Cinematography, & Editing
The one thing I loved about Head Count is the directing; I think Callahan has an incredible approach to horror directing. The general concept I enjoyed about Carpenter’s Halloween inspired me to appreciate Callahan’s work since both films succeed in their own right especially directing-wise in the horror realm. Not so much a slasher, but the directing, specifically, is where I see similarities. When you know someone is destined to be a horror director, you can just tell. I think Callahan has a passion for horror that is evident. Callahan’s directing is always consistently good; there are a few tracking shots that I absolutely love. Callahan does this interesting thing, using a tracking shot while including a jump scare. It is terrifyingly remarkable.
One of the examples is when Martha answers the door, and as she closes it, a short pause takes place, but shortly thereafter the camera starts to follow her as she turns around. As this happens, Fiona and Shay are standing there. It is jarring but so frightening. It is in Witch Hunt’s directing that makes it one of the most impressive screenplays ever. The sequence where they are dumped into the pool is exquisite. I enjoyed that sequence quite a bit when Claire and the others were looking in at the “witch hunt” in real-time — or at least how they decide who is a witch and who isn’t.
I also enjoyed the sequence that seems to be unfolding between Claire and Fiona after they have performed magic. The “Barstool Sequence,” is what we will coin it, was a fantastic sequence. Just for suspense, perception, and passion. The sequence that follows when Fiona is crying is enchanting, and I felt it as deeply as to how it was written. In Witch Hunt, there are also surpassing transitions that occur by virtue of a door closing, a locker closing, or a change of clothes. I love when transitions are seamless or have a sense of seamlessness to them. It makes it scarier when everything is so sound in a horror film, the directing is part of the reason you’re frightened — alongside the mise-en-scene and the screenplay. I think the cinematography and the color palette in this film are outstanding as well.
It is challenging to have a horror film “appear vivacious.” This is a very tricky obstacle because you want to showcase everything to the audience, but it should also look dark, just as in reality. I thought the dark to light was fantastic because I was able to see everything; in some horror movies you can’t even see, but this one was fantastic in that respect. It wasn’t too dim that you could not see anything, but it wasn’t so bright that those witches gave you nightmares (you couldn’t see everything). Generally speaking, each section of the film worked cohesively. You can tell each part of the filmmaking process was established creatively. The overall theme of the film was demonstrated by how well these aspects interact with each other. With respect to the success of this film, it is in large part due to its close relation to reality; what transpires in real life is very similar to what transpires in Witch Hunt, and perhaps the best movies have a larger conversation about society (such as Get Out). Perhaps that is the most terrifying aspect of all: that we are so similar to witches, yet we don’t even know it.
I found the acting rather enjoyable. It started out newfangled, but after a couple of minutes, it begins to get its bearings. I found the first ten minutes to be jarring, perhaps because you are getting to know the characters quickly and what they do. It all makes sense, but it was jarring when it didn’t. I thought each of the characters did their part fantastically; Clarie (Gideon Adlon), though she doesn’t talk as much as the others, did a fantastic job as the lead. A truly outstanding performance and I did predict her ending at the beginning since I knew she would kick-ass. But Shay (Echo Campbell), Martha (Elizabeth Mitchel), Fiona (Abi Cowen), and other supporting characters are just as impressive. I consider this to be a powerful feminist movie; it highlights friendship, politics, relationships between mother and daughter, and how to be and exist in the world by doing what one desires to do. I believe one must be singularly true to themselves rather than following the opinions of others.
Claire, for example, sees witches as “evil” simply because that is what she sees around her, but are they? She needs to make that decision for herself, and she does so at the end of the film. It is wonderful to see all women assumed leadership roles in a horror film, but it is especially special when they are allowed to act as they do. They are not being tortured or murdered; they exist as human beings who believe in what they believe in and also grow. They also live to see the end of the story, which is still a rare occurrence without some form of torture. To have a satisfying ending for most of these characters, mainly, is quite refreshing. To have Claire save the day, figure out who she is, and strive to achieve that… that’s extraordinary. Rarely seen and unforgettable. It is incredible what female filmmakers can accomplish in the horror genre, and this movie is a fantastic example of that.
So… Is Witch Hunt (2021) Your Next Letterboxd Add?
What a gem to see at SXSW 2021. Elle Callahan is a name to keep, remember, and take notes of. I have enjoyed what has been released so far and am in love with the motifs, the concepts, and the directing. Based on the two films I have seen, it is clear what a pleasure Callahan takes in filmmaking, horror filmmaking. She creates the most refreshing horror concepts with the most frightening aspects of living and they are good. (You can have entertaining concepts and scary movies, but they are not always good.) I am excited for another release from Callahan, whenever that may be. Witch Hunt could be the best 2021 release so far; which makes it an ideal movie to watch for our first viewing at SXSW 2021. Enjoy the witchy vibes and try not to get scared when the witch… you know what, you’ll see it for yourself.
This one is a pretty good review:
SXSW ‘Witch Hunt’ Review: Elle Callahan’s Thriller Has Better Scares Than Any Horror Flick Out There
VOTE: 4/5 “IMPRESSIVE”
Witch Hunt, written and directed by Elle Callahan is a taut revenge drama that doubles up as a terrific horror film. Set in modern America, the film revolves witches, witchcraft and a teenage girl (played by Gideon Adlon) who has to face her own demons. It is only after that she finds the courage to help two young fugitive witches to evade law enforcement that sees them as criminals. The movie traces their efforts to connect and cross the southern border to seek asylum in Mexico and it’s the mix of both that makes this supernatural thriller what it is. That and Callahan’s nuanced, layered writing that weaves an immersive narrative. The story-telling is fueled by performances by Adlon and others.
Mind you, Witch Hunt is not just a genre film because it also serves as a commentary on the law of the land that will burn people at stake if they dared to claim free will. Filmmaker Elle Callahan’s passionate telling of the same assures insight as one gets invested in the modern yet dystopian world. Apart from Adlon who was seen in Blockers, the film also stars Fate The Winx Saga actor Abigail Cowen and Lost star Elizabeth Mitchell. And boy, do they deliver! The cinematography has been done by Nico Aguilar and Tommy Oceanak, while the film has been edited by Nick Garnham Wright.
The film doesn’t waste time; it begins right where it should, hinting at what viewers can expect from the rest of the movie – the condemning of a woman because she has realised her powers. Hence, a threat to ‘man’kind and should be burned at a stake. She is apparently so dangerous that several men of law enforcement are pointing rifles at her as one sets her ablaze. The imagery is powerful in this one and so is the rage. Especially when two impressionable young girls, seemingly her daughters watch her skin melt. The authorities are calling themselves BWI and they are dedicated to see that more of her kind are met with their fate and they will not stop at anything.
Parallelly we meet a teenage girl who carries the same prejudice and believes witches are criminals. But while she goes ahead to write papers on witchcraft for school, her mom played by Elizabeth Mitchell has a mind of her own. In fact, she has a system of rescuing witches who are being chased and persecuted and making them cross the Southern border to seek an asylum in Mexico. One fine day, the two siblings who lost their mom earlier lands at her house, a temporary refuge and that is where the story takes a turn. Gideon Adlon’s Claire is suddenly conflicted, and is opening up to one of two sisters albeit hesitantly. Unsurprisingly, she even bonds with Abigail Cowen’s Franie and together they talk about feminist movies like Thelma & Louise and alternative endings. And honestly, it’s so beautiful that another critique could be the feminist reading of the scene alone. It was like I came in expecting something and I’ getting it with an added bonus of young girls becoming the women they want to be. I might have cried a little.
Adlon has done a solid job in the portrayal of a teenager who is going through the most uncertain time of her life. Her Claire is vulnerable yet strong-willed and the actor brings the duality of her character to the fore with finesse, no less. And details like chipped nail polish only added more layers to her on-screen personality.
Witches and witch-hunt are not alien concepts. As an Indian, the subjugation of women after being branded as a ‘witch’ is not unheard of. Magic or no magic, the stakes are always setup, flames are always fanned and it is done to set an example. So that no other woman dares to think she has free will to just be. And it is so everywhere. Which is why it was so comforting the way Callahan unified women in misery. Cause sometimes knowing that you’re not the only one being repressed gives you strength to overcome the same repression. The movies gave me that strength.
Now, let’s talk about Callahan’s treatment of the subject. It is that of a horror movie with better scares and jump scares than any decent ghost flick out there but with enough nerve and nuance that sets it apart from just a spooky act. Yes, it’s spooky and has all the makings of a compelling horror film–with vivid nightmares and sleepwalking to other dimension–but that’s not even the selling point. While the film takes a drop right in the middle of the drama and fails to engage enough, it makes up for it during the climax with a plot twist that’s both obvious and surprising.
The symbolism is apt with the use of the wall and the Mexican border to highlight the plight of those who have been othered, in this case, witches and it works perfectly with the underlying themes of the film with a literal and metaphorical translation/manifestation.
Oh, don’t miss this gem if you get a chance to watch it. It’s surreal, striking and replete with symbolism. It is also empowering in more ways than one.
This is an amazing review:
SXSW 2021 Review: ‘Witch Hunt’ Couples Frantic Horror with a Picture that Confronts Prejudice, Fear, and Coming-of-Age in One Package
Elle Callahan’s “Witch Hunt,” world premiering in the ‘2020 Spotlight’ section at this year’s SXSW festival, is the kind-of movie that always gets me excited about genre film. It’s a stunning commentary about hatred towards minority groups—immigrants most specifically—but also LGBTQ+ that is told through a truly smart lens.
Claire (Gideon Adlon) is a high school student living in Northern California in an America that is totally normal, except for the fact that witches are real and witchcraft is illegal. This is expressed in the opening scene where a woman is burned at the stake. More shocking is that this is modern day America, 400-some years after the Salem Witch Trials.
Claire can hang with her friends at school but has to be private at home since things are much different. Her mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) has a system in place where she lets persecuted witches stay in her walls to evade the Bureau of Witch investigations.
Then, one of her colleagues takes the witches over the border to Mexico, where accused witches are being offered asylum. Claire’s prejudices are tested when a girl her own age, Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and her sister Shae (Echo Campbell) stay in their home. You see, a new Bill called ‘Prop 6’ is being voted on that would take away the rights of any children of persecuted witches.
In concept alone, “Witch Hunt” had me hooked from the start. It feels like Nazi Germany as witches hide from the BWI like Jews hiding from the Nazis. Imagery of witches hiding in the walls calls back to Anne Frank, as well as more recently in Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” another film about learning to let go of prejudices through friendship. It’s even more relevant to America, too, with the immigration crisis in America and how children were held in cages. For this reason, the commentary isn’t exactly subtle and could be divisive depending on your own personal beliefs. However, watching this, you might learn a thing or two.
This is the case with Claire who shows racism and prejudice can be learned from a friend group, as her friends at school repeatedly berate a classmate of theirs whom everyone believes to be a witch. This is because of her red hair, and in this America, that is the common gene for witchcraft. At one point, Claire tells her mom in the middle of the night they can’t continue risking their lives for these people. Martha tells her daughter that’s what they are, people.
We know this behaviour wasn’t learned from the mom who fights for these people, and Mitchell is great in the role. She’s compassionate and protective, and when a neighbour comes over and bad-mouths witches, Mitchell is equally convincing switching her tune to be a like-minded bigot and tell her what she wants to hear.
Claire is interesting because as she starts learning about herself and her fears and anxieties, her preconceived prejudices are challenged in fascinating ways as she befriends Fiona. The dramatic chemistry between Adlon’s Claire and Cowen’s Fiona is fantastic as two teens sheltered in very different ways. Their performances are individually strong and they’re better together. The film is as much a tale about unfair persecution as it is a coming-of-age tale of discovery and acceptance. How Callahan uses this specific tale to tell that has great ingenuity. Claire’s full arc is joyous to watch, too.
I can talk about Elle Callahan’s rich themes all day—she directs and pens the screenplay, as well as doing the sound design—but her horror sequences have just as much merit. There’s more of a reliance on jump scares but the way the film plays into a haunted house sub-plot is legitimately creepy. The horror always feels frantic, though the “wispy” effects look to be the weakest aspect of “Witch Hunt,” but otherwise the effects shine in certain witchcraft moments.
Callahan injects a fair bit of dramatic tension, too, especially when we think Fiona and the young Shae will be found out. Every investigation into this happens believably throughout the film given the sequence of events. As well, Callahan gets that the most terrifying aspect of a witchcraft story may just be a young witch who hasn’t been able to train their powers, nor do they understand their powers. This leans into the unpredictability and entertainment factor of the film as “Witch Hunt” shines.
They don’t mention Liz, but they are good reviews:
Set in present-day America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, Claire (Gideon Adlon) and her family help two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the border for asylum in Mexico. Writer-Director Elle Callahan has created a fun witch tale with a strong cast of young up-and-coming talent.
Films about witches have been done time and time again. However, Callahan has given it a fresh take by setting them in the present day. She heightens the stakes for her witch characters by making witchcraft illegal. Therefore, causing the witches to seek refuge, which adds a survival element to her story.
Callahan has also interwoven a teen coming-of-age story into the character of Claire. We watch her journey into self-discovery through her blossoming friendship with Fiona (Abigail Cowen), the older sister witch. It’s through this that we see Claire realize her true herself and learn about her heritage.
Overall, Witch Hunt is an inventive take on witches and Callahan balances the darker aspects of her script with fun moments filled with magic.
This is not a completely good review, they didn’t like the finale, but they liked the film.
Movie Review: Witch Hunt Starring Gideon Adlon, Elizabeth Mitchell, Christian Camargo, Premieres at SXSW 2021 – Curious and Cautionary Tale
Reviewer’s Rating: 3.5 ★★★★★★
When I researched some of the films that would be presented at this year’s (virtual) SXSW Film Festival, I gravitated toward films that are in the genres of supernatural, paranormal, fantasy, and anything to do with space. When I saw the synopsis for Witch Hunt, I became intrigued.
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.
Prior to the SXSW 2021 lineup was released, I hadn’t heard of the film. It was actually filmed in 2019, and I love the underdogs, lesser known films that could potentially become fan favorites. Admittedly, I had to watch Witch Hunt twice to fully grasp what I think writer/director Elle Callahan wanted to convey. I may be wrong in my assessment, but it’s my interpretation.
While I did have a second chance to watch this movie, I am purposefully writing this review so that people can go into the first viewing with a clear idea to pay attention to the small details.
Witch Hunt is a curious and cautionary tale that’s complex and intriguing; however, there are a couple of caveats. After the second viewing, I realized several things I missed which are crucial for the viewers to know before going in. While there are some things that are not on the screen long enough, the internet searches that Claire (Gideon Adlon) does for her school paper is such an important part of the overall message of this film. There are also some slight plot holes, but I’ve forgiven most, except the ending. If you’re going to use the iconic Thelma & Louise film as reference, you must do it justice. The ending lacked in that satisfaction; however, you get the idea of where the director is trying to go.
The film opens with a definition of “witch hunt” which begs to be noticed. The second part of the definition stands out: “A campaign directed against a person, or group, holding unorthodox or unpopular views, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.” Having this lingering in the back of your mind sets the stage for the remainder of the film.
If you’re at all easily offended or squeamish, the opening scene after the incredibly jarring definition is an even more visceral scene of a woman being burned alive; so, you have been warned. As I watched the film, I began to see a running theme playing, something so profound that you don’t realize that it’s been smacking you in the face since the start of the movie.
Witch Hunt has magic, terror, and a sense of discovery . The story arcs feel like a comparison to the modern day (current) ostracizing of minorities, including those in the LGBTQ+ communities, even drawing on the condemnation of people of different race and creeds. The so-called “witches” in this film are all fair-skinned, red-haired women. Their children are also under scrutiny because of their genetic link to an accused “witch.” Sound familiar? Stereotyping, racial profiling, judging people based on the color of their skin, or in this case, the color of their hair.
After the death of her husband, Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) moves her children, Claire, and twin boys George and Corey (Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti), into a large farm-like house in Southern California near the Mexico border. Martha assists those who are accused or are in danger of being persecuted and executed for being a witch. This causes a bit of a rift between her and Claire who can’t be a normal teenager which is made more difficult by being in a new town and new school.
The house is also an interesting character. It harbors many secrets within its cavernous walls, and the use of some suspenseful jump scares and flashbacks make some scenes quite intense. I wouldn’t say this is a typical horror, but there are some frightening characters who make their presence known in unexpected ways.
The quintessential bad guy comes in the form of Detective Hawthorne (Christian Camargo) from the “Federal Bureau of Witchcraft Investigations” – “BWI” for short. Hawthorne is a ruthless lawman who doesn’t have any qualms about using excessive force when it comes to taking down persons believed to be witches. He even has a special item that aids him in his search for evidence of witchcraft being used. Camargo immerses himself into this character so much so that I felt angst toward him. I loved his performance. His portrayal of Hawthorne as an unapologetic, self-righteous a**hole is compelling. Hawthorne puts fear into those who cross him.
The BWI run routine tests on the girls at school to determine if they are witches or not. The painful looking “prick tests” where they get needles jammed in their bodies and to identify a “witch’s mark” then subject them to “sink tests” to see if they pass or fail – witches apparently float.
There are other characters in the film that deserve to be mentioned. Abigail Cowen plays Fiona, and her younger sister Shae is played by Echo Campbell. The two girls have traveled from New England to Southern California to get across the border. Martha tries to help them but after a tragic event with the last transport, things become complicated. These girls have a tragic story; they just want to be accepted for who they are and not what they can do. Their ability to do magic is something they were born with, not something they asked for.
Claire must constantly keep secrets from her friends at school, but these friends are prejudiced against witches or anyone who looks like they could be a witch. Claire also has asthma which leads to strange and complex situations. Peculiar things happen to Claire over the course of the film – she’s having specific dreams and experiencing sleepwalking. Adlon gives a nuanced performance that showcases the character’s timid nature. She gives the misunderstood/frustrated teenager vibe, but she also conveys empathy and understanding when she and Fiona get to know one another better.
There are a few moments that strain credulity, especially the bar scene with Claire and Fiona. With all the BWI agents in the area, why would you purposefully go to a bar and expose yourself? While I get the plot device to add a catalyst for Hawthorne to visit Martha and investigate, it felt a bit contrived.
Overall, I enjoyed Witch Hunt. Despite a couple of flaws, there is good casting, commendable acting, and there is enough suspense mixed in to qualify it as a ‘horror’ genre. The creepy hands reaching out in the darkness, the mysterious ladies in black that disappear in the mist kept me on edge. And there is a moral to the story – don’t judge people based on certain criteria.
A wider U.S. release date hasn’t been set (at least not when I published this review), but I’m sure it will be available soon. The film is produced by Defiant Studios.