Saturday, July 26, 2014

Witching and Bitching Review

Witching and Bitching Review

Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia made a film back in 2010 called “The Last Circus,” it was a movie that blew my mind completely. While kind of a crazy movie, it was filled with iconic images, it was well acted and it really hit my emotional center. It was filled with derangement, it was filled with debasement and it was filled with absolute emotional power. It was a metaphor for the Spanish Civil War and if you watch enough movies by Spanish and Mexican filmmakers, you will understand that that war was an event that pierced the minds of these artists. “The Last Circus” quickly became a movie to remember for me and Alex de la Iglesia became a director worth keeping an eye out for.

Now in 2014, de la Iglesia is at it again, but he is venturing into completely different territory. The website Wikipedia and IMDB have labeled de la Iglesia’s new film, “Witching and Bitching,” a drama and horror film. While I definitely agree it’s a horror film, and there are some dramatic beats in the film. I would also call “Witching and Bitching” a comedy. There are so many comedic beats that land perfectly in this movie that it is hard to ignore. I love that de la Iglesia brought a sense of humor this time out, as “The Last Circus” was quite dark at times. While de la Iglesia channeled The Spanish Civil War with “The Last Circus,” this time he is channeling The Basque witch trials, which were the equivalent to our Salem Witch Trials, though the Spanish trials were much bleaker. While mixing metaphor, drama, horror and comedy into one big bowl seems like a tight job, de la Iglesia makes it all look effortless. While I will say that I prefer “The Last Circus,” and at moments “Witching and Bitching” stalls, I will still say that it is a strong film worth checking out.

The film’s premise is simple. The film begins with the robbing of a pawn shop by Jose (Hugo Silva) and Tony (Mario Casas). Much to Tony’s dismay, Jose has also brought his young son onto the heist, as it his day with his boy and he did not know what else to do. As Jose and Tony are making their getaway, they stumble into a foggy forest and they quickly find out that they are being stalked by an old coven of witches. The witches, led by Graciana (Carmen Maura) and Maritxu (Terele Pavez), want Jose’s son to spearhead a witch revolution and take over the world, but Jose can’t let that happen. Meanwhile, Tony and Jose are being chased by Silvia (Macarena Gomez), Jose’s ex-wife and two police inspectors (Secun de la Rosa and Pepon Nieto) and they are eventually tossed into the mix to save Jose’s son.

I easily identified with Jose quickly, while he is definitely a flawed man (he brought his son on a heist for crying out loud), he is trying to be a part of his son’s life. Silvia is trying, tooth and nail, to gain full custody of the boy, and Jose is fighting hard to make this all matter. When the witches reveal themselves and the film makes a huge left turn, Jose goes into full hero mode and shows how good of a father he is. I thought the performance by Hugo Silva was spot-on, making good use of Jose’s dramatic and comedic scenes. This is my first experience watching Silva onscreen and I can say that I look forward to seeing him again.

The rest of the cast is equally solid. The work by Maura and Pavez is hammy and over-the-top at times, but I think that was the intension. They are also straight-up horrifying at times and their transitions are handled wonderfully. I also liked Mario Casas’ Tony and thought he had lots of good scenes. Macarena Gomez is plays a magnificent bitch and I also found her performance very good too. Eva, played by Carolina Bang, is a sympathetic witch who eventually falls in love with Jose. Carolina Bang also played a major role in “The Last Circus,” and I liked hero a lot in both films. She is a beautiful and talented actress, and hopefully she make some kind of American debut sometime (wishful thinking on my part, I’m sure.).

The special effects used in the film are terrible, but somehow it added to the flavor of the film. It often feels like you are watching a straight-to-DVD movie, but it still was fun to watch. I will say that the film lags at times, something that was not apparent in “The Last Circus.” There are several moments of long, tension-filled scenes that building up to the film’s climax. I still think that Quentin Tarantino is the master of writing the “build-up” scenes. There are moments where the action slows down and then picks up again in “Witching and Bitching” and it just doesn’t translate out onscreen well enough. But these nitpicks aren’t enough to derail the experience completely.

If you can imagine a Spanish version of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” then you’ve got “Witching and Bitching.” It’s a movie that juggles many genres at once, and does so with a swift hand and an honest heart. While I don’t feel the final product comes together like his last movie, de la Iglesia has a vivid imagination that he plasters on the screen and he an artist I can’t wait to see more of.

FINAL GRADE: B

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