I found a couple of new nice reviews of Witch Hunt where they also praise Liz. 😀
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.
MarshallMitchell as Martha is a warm and wise presence as Claire’s mother. She is kind but is not a pushover. Her strength and sense of purpose show her beautiful spirit.
This is another feature that is very well cast.
Full reviews below:
‘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.
[SXSW Review] WITCH HUNT
Director Elle Callahan’s second feature is WITCH HUNT. It stars Gideon Adlon (Claire), Abigail Cowen (Fiona), Elizabeth Mitchell (Martha), Echo Campbell (Shae), Treva Etienne (Jacob), and Christian Camargo (Hawthorne). Witches are real and the US Government has outlawed witchcraft and witches themselves, despite the fact that none of them asked for their powers. There is a Bureau of Witch Investigations or BWI and the resemblance to the US Customs and Border Protection Agency cannot be a coincidence.
Claire, a high school student who is friends with a group of too cool for school girls, starts noticing the oppression of witches all around her. She has been resentful of her mother’s actions to aid witches but begins to see how wrong things really are. She meets Fiona and Shae, sisters who lost their mother and are fleeing agents of the BWI, and begins to have more sympathy for this marginalized group. The arrival of Hawthorne, a witch hunter, signals that the problem is much more serious than any of them thought.
Elle Callahan has taken a strong step with the next film in her career. She is using the horror genre and the legend of witches and witch-hunting to express a very important problem within our society: othering and penalizing people because of who they are and for things that they cannot control. Of course, WITCH HUNT is a strong metaphor for xenophobia in the United States. It isn’t a coincidence either that there is a wall and the Mexican border is the escape route for the underground conveyance of witches. The audience can see itself in the characters who are being oppressed and discriminated against in the most heinous of ways.
Gideon Adlon as Claire is very good. She’s a girl uncomfortable in her skin and with her identity trying to fit in with people that she doesn’t really like. Abigail Cowen has done a great job of being the opposite of Gideon, comfortable with who she is and filled with pride in who she is. She’s much more secure as a person who nascent witch powers. Echo Campbell is fantastic as the silent and emotionally traumatized Shae. Her face is written with the hurt and loss that she has suffered and Campbell effortlessly shows this without a word. Elizabeth
Marshall Mitchell as Martha is a warm and wise presence as Claire’s mother. She is kind but is not a pushover. Her strength and sense of purpose show her beautiful spirit. Treva Etienne is one of the few men in the cast and the most sympathetic. He is like Martha and doing the best that he can to save as many as he can.
Christian Camargo is quixotic as Hawthorne. A man who believes wholeheartedly that he is doing the right thing when he really isn’t. He is proud of his witch-hunting ancestors where his writer ancestor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was not. He is the villain of the piece, along with the mostly faceless and nameless aggressors of the BWI, but he is the crux of the male ego on display in a surprisingly not overtly macho form which is a very nice touch. I have to give credit to the casting director, Lindsey Weissmueller, here because this is another feature that is very well cast. Casting is a crucial part of filmmaking and the decisions are made by the director, but someone has to give the people in charge the right choices to start with. The music by Blitz//Berlin is understated yet strange and menacing at the same time.
The imagery of the film, blue roses, and crosses, and the postcards from Cuidad Azul are just right. The blue symbolic value is multifaceted. The blue of the sky and the ocean is calming but what force on Earth is stronger than the ocean or the winds? Blue is protection and strength. The roses growing from the bare Earth in the strangest places. It is most appropriate.
In addition to the metaphor of the othering of migrants, this is also a parable about women and their power. It occurred to me after watching WITCH HUNT, that what Henry Rollins said so many years ago was true. “Ladies, they are scared shitless.” The othering and blaming of women is the patriarchy’s way of keeping women subservient to their power. They fear a loss of control vis-à-vis the magic and mystery of women. That female power is only somewhat acceptable in women as mothers, but that acceptance is usually conditional on the marital structure. Men, insecure men, are very frightened of women and their power. In this film, the monitoring and testing of girls start when they hit puberty. That’s when girls become dangerous in the view of this version of the US government. As with Raw by Julia Durcournau, it is the process of girls coming of age sexually that terrifies the men of the BWI and this world’s government. It’s the way that they blame girls and women for their own failings and insecurities. They really aren’t afraid of witchcraft deep down, they are afraid of losing control of girls and women.
WITCH HUNT is a parable of the crimes of the patriarchy in our society. It is about the injustice of xenophobia and misanthropy built into that structure. If you outlaw one group, it’s a given that you will use the same tactics towards any group that displeases you when it is convenient. This is a superb and focused second feature from Elle Callahan, filled with the magic and strength of women and girls.
WITCH HUNT’s blue roses grow despite all attempts to crush their beauty and their power.