Witch Hunt | Review – Part 13

I found a few more reviews about this amazing movie. I love what they say about Liz. Witch Hunt deserves all the praises that it is getting. If you haven’t watched it yet, check it out.

Mitchell is a real ray of sunshine in such a solemn story, and she too truly sells Martha’s commitment to this cause (especially when her true intentions are explored in the film’s finale).

Source: loudandclearreviews.com

Mitchell, Adlon and Cowen elevate their scenes

Source: outtakemag.co.uk/

 

Witch Hunt skillfully balances sharp social commentary with sincerely shocking scares, making this a must-see for genre fans.

4 stars out of 5

As stated at the start of Witch Hunt, this term has taken on two meanings throughout the course of history thus far – both of which prove to be essential to understanding the true message of writer-director Elle Callahan’s (Head Count) movie. At face value, a witch hunt can most simply be described as “a search for, and subsequent persecution of, persons accused of witchcraft,” which of course calls to mind the chaos of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. However, in recent decades, a less literal definition has emerged – “a campaign directed against a person, or group, holding unorthodox or unpopular views, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.” Hunts such as these come from both sides of the political aisle and originate in a number of subcultures in society, but one thing has become quite clear amidst all of this conflict – misinformation is more prevalent and more popular than ever, and lies about minority or disenfranchised groups have been legitimatized to a deadly degree.

With Witch Hunt, Callahan merges these two meanings to form the terrifying thematic throughline of her fantasy thriller, a film that takes place in a modern America, much like today, only with one distinct difference – witches are real, and witchcraft is illegal. We further become familiar with the specifics of this setting through the perspective of Claire (Gideon Adlon, of Blockers and The Craft: Legacy), a sheltered teen who holds her prejudices against practicing witches, even though these convictions run contrary to those of her mother Martha (Elizabeth Michell, of The Purge: Election Year and The Santa Clause 2), who regulates an “Underground Railroad”-esque operation for witches evading law enforcement and seeking to cross the southern border to reach asylum in Mexico. And yet, when two witch sisters named Fiona (Abigail Cowen, of Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga and I Still Believe) and Shae (newcomer Echo Campbell) arrive to temporarily stay with the family, Claire’s burgeoning friendship with Fiona causes her to question her beliefs – as do her own potential proclivities towards witchcraft that start to surface.

Right off the bat, it’s apparent that Witch Hunt has plentiful parallels to hot-button topics in 21st Century politics – persecution and demonization of “the other,” crossing over to another country to find freedom, etc. – and instead of merely making these connections and moving on, Callahan efficiently engages with the similarities between her story and this real-world strife in her script, integrating these two realities in a way that brilliantly blends fact and fiction. In doing so, Callahan calls on audiences to interrogate their own ingrained biases, just as Claire has to when first meeting Fiona and Shae – for those who incessantly moan over the millions of “illegal immigrants” entering the United States each and every day, how would they feel if the individuals experiencing this enmity were two red-headed white girls instead?

Because Fiona and Shae are being sought out solely due to their “witchy” genealogy – a characteristic of their identity that is out of their control – obvious comparisons arise between their struggles and the suffering endured by individuals of diverse races and ethnicities for similarly irreversible aspects of their selfhood. However, an additional allegory seems to arise from Claire’s conundrum in particular. For so long, Claire has viewed witches with vitriol, but after meeting these two sisters and subsequently discovering “darker” parts of her own personality, Witch Hunt also suggests a synonymity between witchhood and queerness – and this symbolism is further studied as Claire and Fiona develop a deep bond (which includes intense discussions on the famously queer-coded Thelma & Louise) and Claire embraces those pieces of her psyche that formerly horrified her. Though never made explicit, this stirring subtext adds rich resonance to Witch Hunt as a whole.

Throughout the film, Callahan also capably demonstrates that her direction is just as distinguished and dynamic as this thoroughly textured storytelling, ingeniously incorporating harrowing horror imagery into scenes of both authentic and imaginary peril. Claire’s numerous nightmares about occult apparitions are sufficiently spine-chilling – showcasing the startling stories she’s heard about witches her entire life and accentuating the anxiety she feels at possibly having these powers herself – and cinematographers Nico Aguilar (Countdown, The Glorias) and Tommy Oceanak (MotorTrend’s Engine Masters) assist Callahan by engulfing us in this eerie environment, while Canadian composers Blitz//Berlin (The Void, Psycho Goreman) provide a petrifying score that further heightens our fears.

The worldly woes that Callahan catches on camera typically come from the hawkish Detective Hawthorne (Christian Camargo, of The Hurt Locker and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), an aggressive government agent who sets his sights on Martha and her “suspicious operation,” and Callahan infuses each and every one of his scenes with a striking intensity that causes you to catch your breath, even when you least expect it (which is also a testament to Camargo’s palpably intimidating presence in the role). However, Witch Hunt’s standout sequence has to be its mid-film “sink-or-swim” test. In schools, all girls female students are regularly checked for “witch” characteristics, and for the unfortunate souls that fail, they are then subjected to a procedure in which they are submerged underwater for a prolonged period of time so government officials can see if any witches rise to the surface. As Claire watches four of her classmates go through this torture, Callahan’s command over the cruelty of this “inspection” is immensely impactful.

Witch Hunt’s ensemble cast is excellent across-the-board, with Adlon anchoring the entire affair with her honest humanity and a resounding relatability. Her evolution as a character as she abandons her animosity towards witches is compelling and credible the whole way through, and that’s entirely due to the believability Adlon brings to the part. Mitchell is a real ray of sunshine in such a solemn story, and she too truly sells Martha’s commitment to this cause (especially when her true intentions are explored in the film’s finale). Finally, Cowen’s Fiona is a formidable foil for Adlon’s Claire, and she carries herself with a combination of concern and courage at all times, never shying away from Fiona’s fear about being caught but also effortlessly emphasizing her endearing will to survive.

As stated at the start of Witch Hunt, this term has taken on two meanings throughout the course of history thus far – both of which prove to be essential to understanding the true message of writer-director Elle Callahan’s (Head Count) movie. At face value, a witch hunt can most simply be described as “a search for, and subsequent persecution of, persons accused of witchcraft,” which of course calls to mind the chaos of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. However, in recent decades, a less literal definition has emerged – “a campaign directed against a person, or group, holding unorthodox or unpopular views, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.” Hunts such as these come from both sides of the political aisle and originate in a number of subcultures in society, but one thing has become quite clear amidst all of this conflict – misinformation is more prevalent and more popular than ever, and lies about minority or disenfranchised groups have been legitimatized to a deadly degree.

With Witch Hunt, Callahan merges these two meanings to form the terrifying thematic throughline of her fantasy thriller, a film that takes place in a modern America, much like today, only with one distinct difference – witches are real, and witchcraft is illegal. We further become familiar with the specifics of this setting through the perspective of Claire (Gideon Adlon, of Blockers and The Craft: Legacy), a sheltered teen who holds her prejudices against practicing witches, even though these convictions run contrary to those of her mother Martha (Elizabeth Michell, of The Purge: Election Year and The Santa Clause 2), who regulates an “Underground Railroad”-esque operation for witches evading law enforcement and seeking to cross the southern border to reach asylum in Mexico. And yet, when two witch sisters named Fiona (Abigail Cowen, of Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga and I Still Believe) and Shae (newcomer Echo Campbell) arrive to temporarily stay with the family, Claire’s burgeoning friendship with Fiona causes her to question her beliefs – as do her own potential proclivities towards witchcraft that start to surface.

Right off the bat, it’s apparent that Witch Hunt has plentiful parallels to hot-button topics in 21st Century politics – persecution and demonization of “the other,” crossing over to another country to find freedom, etc. – and instead of merely making these connections and moving on, Callahan efficiently engages with the similarities between her story and this real-world strife in her script, integrating these two realities in a way that brilliantly blends fact and fiction. In doing so, Callahan calls on audiences to interrogate their own ingrained biases, just as Claire has to when first meeting Fiona and Shae – for those who incessantly moan over the millions of “illegal immigrants” entering the United States each and every day, how would they feel if the individuals experiencing this enmity were two red-headed white girls instead?
loud and clear reviews witch hunt sxsw

Because Fiona and Shae are being sought out solely due to their “witchy” genealogy – a characteristic of their identity that is out of their control – obvious comparisons arise between their struggles and the suffering endured by individuals of diverse races and ethnicities for similarly irreversible aspects of their selfhood. However, an additional allegory seems to arise from Claire’s conundrum in particular. For so long, Claire has viewed witches with vitriol, but after meeting these two sisters and subsequently discovering “darker” parts of her own personality, Witch Hunt also suggests a synonymity between witchhood and queerness – and this symbolism is further studied as Claire and Fiona develop a deep bond (which includes intense discussions on the famously queer-coded Thelma & Louise) and Claire embraces those pieces of her psyche that formerly horrified her. Though never made explicit, this stirring subtext adds rich resonance to Witch Hunt as a whole.

Throughout the film, Callahan also capably demonstrates that her direction is just as distinguished and dynamic as this thoroughly textured storytelling, ingeniously incorporating harrowing horror imagery into scenes of both authentic and imaginary peril. Claire’s numerous nightmares about occult apparitions are sufficiently spine-chilling – showcasing the startling stories she’s heard about witches her entire life and accentuating the anxiety she feels at possibly having these powers herself – and cinematographers Nico Aguilar (Countdown, The Glorias) and Tommy Oceanak (MotorTrend’s Engine Masters) assist Callahan by engulfing us in this eerie environment, while Canadian composers Blitz//Berlin (The Void, Psycho Goreman) provide a petrifying score that further heightens our fears.

The worldly woes that Callahan catches on camera typically come from the hawkish Detective Hawthorne (Christian Camargo, of The Hurt Locker and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), an aggressive government agent who sets his sights on Martha and her “suspicious operation,” and Callahan infuses each and every one of his scenes with a striking intensity that causes you to catch your breath, even when you least expect it (which is also a testament to Camargo’s palpably intimidating presence in the role). However, Witch Hunt’s standout sequence has to be its mid-film “sink-or-swim” test. In schools, all girls female students are regularly checked for “witch” characteristics, and for the unfortunate souls that fail, they are then subjected to a procedure in which they are submerged underwater for a prolonged period of time so government officials can see if any witches rise to the surface. As Claire watches four of her classmates go through this torture, Callahan’s command over the cruelty of this “inspection” is immensely impactful.

Witch Hunt’s ensemble cast is excellent across-the-board, with Adlon anchoring the entire affair with her honest humanity and a resounding relatability. Her evolution as a character as she abandons her animosity towards witches is compelling and credible the whole way through, and that’s entirely due to the believability Adlon brings to the part. Mitchell is a real ray of sunshine in such a solemn story, and she too truly sells Martha’s commitment to this cause (especially when her true intentions are explored in the film’s finale). Finally, Cowen’s Fiona is a formidable foil for Adlon’s Claire, and she carries herself with a combination of concern and courage at all times, never shying away from Fiona’s fear about being caught but also effortlessly emphasizing her endearing will to survive.
Witch Hunt is a rather small-scale story for the scopious scenario it sets up, but because Callahan’s final product here is so spectacularly satisfying, we’re left wanting to see even more of these characters’ exploits instead of feeling “cheated” in any capacity. Thanks to a commendable cast that helps keep the fantasy grounded in feasibility with their tenderly powerful performances and Elle Callahan’s fierce filmmaking both behind the camera and through her skillful screenwriting, Witch Hunt is a win for genre fans who savor smarts along with their scares – and hopefully a call to film studios everywhere to provide Callahan with bigger budgets and richer resources in the very near future to further spotlight her talents.

Witch Hunt had its World Premiere at SXSW Online on March 17, 2021 in the 2020 Spotlight Section of the festival. The film will be released on DVD and Digital Platforms in the UK on July 5, 2021.

Source: loudandclearreviews.com

‘Witch Hunt’: A Dystopian Young Adult Horror With A Meaningful Message

Debuting recently at SXSW, director Elle Callahan brings to the screen a blend of horror and socio-political commentary in her latest young adult thriller Witch Hunt. Pulled straight from the set of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Abigail Cowen leaves behind the weird sisters to play Fiona, a slightly different kind of witch. The film is set in a quasi-dystopian America where witchcraft is prohibited by law. Callahan uses this metaphor as fuel for a fiery discourse on the dangers of media and governmental fear-mongering, as she deconstructs the witch archetype itself.

An opening still frame presents this premise in the form of two slightly differing dictionary definitions of the term ‘witch hunt’. As the first and arguably more palatable definition of the word is cast off the screen, leaving the second one to linger, it hints at the film’s progressive nature. It comes as no shock, then, that immediately after the rolling of the title, we are plunged into the classroom environment, with the 6th amendment “No person may practice witchcraft in the United States of America” spewed across a teacher’s whiteboard. When introverted Southern Californian student Claire (Gideon Adlon) is coincidentally assigned this as the topic of her essay, it becomes clear that this is a film bent on teaching its audience a lesson.

This lesson begins to take shape as we are introduced to Claire’s mother, who is played by Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost, The Purge: Election Year). It comes to light that she in fact runs a covert organisation aiding young witches to cross the border into Mexico, where they can then seek asylum. Claire is unsupportive of her mother’s scheme and the dangers it poses. With the Bureau of Witch Investigation (BWI) led by sleazy Detective Hawthorne (Christian Camargo) patrolling the streets relentlessly and shooting witches on the spot, her hesitancy is understandable.

However, as Claire begins to form a bond with Fiona, one of the witches her mother has taken in, Claire starts to wonder whether she’s been blinded by her own prejudices. The script contains some subtle allusions to the way in which injustice can be encoded into our institutions as well. For example, Fiona throws about words like ‘idem’, a word with legal connotations, to suggest a sameness between herself and Claire. Coupled with references to the US constitution and hints of corruption in the corridors of power, it seems like the film is pointing to flaws in society’s institutions that must be overcome.

The plot is predictable, but Callahan sprinkles in some Thelma and Louise references here and there to reinvigorate it. She even goes as far as to drop in some self-referential material (we notice Claire’s younger brother reading a book seemingly written by the director herself). In effect, these references call attention to themselves, showing us just how contrived the world of the film can be. We are just as conditioned as our central protagonist to follow along with the narratives and laws prescribed to us.

Much like in Fate: The Winx Saga, where our modish fairies are stripped of their pixie ears and wings, Witch Hunt also boasts a modern spin on the witch archetype. Here, we find ourselves facing a much tamer iteration in the shape of Fiona and her younger sister Shae. Quite unlike the glass-eyed and wart-riddled occultists of Drag Me to Hell and The Witches, it seems that the only real defining characteristic of these witches is their flaming ginger hair. There’s a certain amount of irony in this, as Callahan employs the usually villainous archetype of the witch to illustrate the monstrosity of their ignorant persecutors. While it’s a poignant premise when extended to the current climate, it ultimately leaves us with a disconnect between message and genre. Jump-scares and other horror elements feel out of place in a film more focused on its political point than on providing shocks.

The horror elements in themselves, however misplaced, are still fairly impactful. Particularly impressive are the visual effects from Salvatore Sciortino, who creates smoke-filled screens to indicate the flashback segments. Paired with an asthmatic Claire, who reaches for her inhaler multiple times throughout the film, these are a clever way of symbolically linking Claire with the generations of witches burned at the stake. It may not be a legacy she wants to inherit, but the visual language of the film indicates that her fate is inextricably bound to those that have gone before.

All in all, despite generally being a slow burn, its wall-hiding witches and uncanny real-life references make Witch Hunt a film truly fit for the times. As it tones down the fantastical and horror elements, with a broader appeal that acknowledges its young adult audience, it adds an element of believability and therefore accessibility to its didactic message. On some level, it warns of the dangers of a politically, socially and culturally credulous younger generation, inviting viewers to question their own set of beliefs beyond the film itself. Yet on another level, it shows how the dystopian world of Witch Hunt isn’t all that fantastical after all.

Source: vampiresquid.co.uk

Not a good review, but they wrote this:

‘Witch Hunt’ Has Compelling Performances,
some really beautiful acting

Source: screen-queens.com

Overall Witch Hunt had a promising concept with a good cast

Source: cinechat.co.uk

3 stars

In a modern America where witches are persecuted and practicing magic is illegal, Witch Hunt sees teenager Claire (Gideon Adlon, seen in The Craft: Legacy) be forced to challenge her own prejudices and help two fugitives leave the country.

Claire’s mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell), despite her daughter’s objections, is part of an underground network smuggling witches out of the U.S. and over the border into Mexico, where witches are granted asylum. The family’s home is one of the last stops before the border wall – just one of many references to the Trump era –, an old farmhouse with a maze of crawl spaces between the walls. Tensions rise as the federal Bureau of Witchcraft Investigations begin to close in, right as Martha’s newest intakes are scheduled to be transported south. These two sisters, Shae (Echo Campbell) and Fiona (Abigail Cowen, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) have no choice but to extend their stay with Claire and her family until the way is clear.

Writer-director Elle Callahan finds an interesting tonal balance between the campy, teen fantasy fun of the aforementioned Chilling Adventures or The Craft, and the grave socio-political allegory of The Handmaid’s Tale or Snowpiercer. Though it forgoes much character exposition or world-building, there is a distinctly grounded quality to Witch Hunt. Swap out witches for undocumented immigrants, and the FWI for ICE, and there’s little to differentiate this fictional America from our own. The political commentary does not stop there: a montage of newsreels and dashcam footage shows police shooting unarmed women in the same way we see Black Americans repeatedly gunned down; witches hiding in attics as enforcement goes door to door conjures images of Nazi Germany; mass incarcerations; mob paranoia; media propaganda. The list goes on. It’s by no means subtle, but it gets its point across.

With this in mind however, though the high-minded concept of Witch Hunt is appealing, there is something uncomfortable about the fact that all the witches we see victimised are white women. When witchcraft appears employed as an allegory for race, it’s concerning that it might try to equate the persecution faced by women for something hidden to the historic and systemic racism of today.

And though Witch Hunt’s setup has great potential, the second half of the runtime slips into – perhaps by comparison – a disappointingly conventional supernatural drama. The slow, thoughtful pacing gives way to stock genre elements and cheap scares that take away from the narrative and ambience. Ultimately however, while it falls short of the high expectations set in its first act, Witch Hunt remains a smart, memorable film with captivating performances from Adlon and Cowen that tackles issues of xenophobia, intolerance, and prejudice with appropriate force.

Release date TBA. Witch Hunt screened as part of 2021’s SXSW Festival.

Source: starburstmagazine.com

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