Witch Hunt is a 2021 supernatural drama within an alternate modern-day America, where witches are real, witchcraft is illegal and being burnt at the stake by witch hunters is a feared punishment. While the concept is good and had heaps of potential, the poor lacklustre execution does not make for a bewitching watch.
The film opens on a red-headed witch being burnt at the stake in modern-day New England by witch hunters, while her two daughters look on. Three months later we’re in southern California with teenager Claire (Gideon Adlon) and her friends, whose school days involve tormenting suspected witches in their classes and learning about the 11th amendment, which prevents witches from having the same rights as everyone else. The situation with witches is escalating, with more laws and restrictions planned on witches and their families while the federal Bureau of Witchcraft Investigation ruthlessly hunt them down.
For Claire, life is made more difficult as her widowed mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) uses their family home as a safe house for witches that are being smuggled across the border into Mexico, where they’ll be safe. Within hours of one witch being picked up from their home, the family receive two new refugees – Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and Shae (Echo Campbell) – the sisters who saw their mother die back in New England. Unbeknownst to Claire and her mother, the last witch to leave their property along with their smuggler friend was caught and killed by nasty BWI agent Hawthorne (Christian Camargo).
While the BWI tighten their net on the town, Claire befriends Fiona and discovers she may have powers of her own, despite passing the questionable witch tests the government makes all girls take. With the BWI closing in on the family, Martha and Claire must protect their family and fight to stop the young witches from falling into the hands of the federal agents.
Conceptually, the idea to focus on modern day witchcraft is a clever one. There aren’t many who wouldn’t be familiar with the Salem witch trials or the general persecution of witches in our history, so to bring witchcraft to the present day works well. Some of the trials and tests the women have to undergo to prove they’re not witches are particularly unnerving. Sadly though the rest of this concept just doesn’t work. The actual fantasy and witchcraft elements are incredibly dull, even with a few jump scares thrown in, and being paired with rather poor CGI doesn’t help either. The ending and fate of some of the main characters too is confused and unclear. The cast do bring some good performances, with Christian Camargo being particularly menacing as the villain witch hunter and Abigail Cowen brings some much-needed heart to the witches plight. It’s just unfortunate that they can’t carry the entire film.
There’s also the greater meaning and allegory here pertaining to human rights, especially those of women and minority groups. It touches on a lot of topics including prejudice, misogyny, police states and intolerance. The issue is that I don’t think Witch Hunt goes far enough to address all of these intolerances. The witches are predominantly white women who are being subjected to injustice, and it is far too much of a YA take to ever be taken too seriously. There are hints of a more adult and serious tone here, but sadly it’s never given full attention.
Overall Witch Hunt had a promising concept with a good cast, but ultimately this was let down by the lacklustre and confused execution.
Signature Entertainment presents Witch Hunt on DVD and Digital Platforms 5th July
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!