Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 1st, 2021
Witch Hunt (Elle Callahan, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
Elle Callahan (Head Count) returns to the director’s chair with a story of a world where witches are real … and illegal! Witch Hunt depicts the story of Claire (Gideon Adlon, The Craft: Legacy), a troubled teen who experiences first-hand how other young girls with magical abilities, Fiona and Shae (Abigail Cohen and Echo Campbell), are treated and abused. When a pair of sister witches are given safe haven by Claire’s mother (Elizabeth Mitchell, The Purge: Election Year), the government agency that monitors witchcraft cracks down. With time against them, and the two girls learning how to control their powers, Claire must decide whether she is for or against the idea of witches, and to what lengths she is willing to go.
Witch Hunt’s strongest element is the theme of prejudice and social justice that permeates its semi-realistic tone. The setup and delivery of a world where witches are discriminated against, persecuted, and often murdered will no doubt resonate deeply as a unique take on the horror subgenre. A lot of various perspectives play a part in helping to paint the picture of this world, and the writing does this theme justice well. The perspective of a teenage girl learning about her world, herself, and questioning her stance in all of it is by far the meat of the film and its most interesting aspect.
Beyond this initial concept and its execution, however, Witch Hunt is unfortunately clunky from start to finish. Callahan is not quite able to decide whether she wants this film to be a horror movie—introducing numerous jump scares (random at times, but mostly effective) and brutal imagery to suggest such a genre—or if it is a drama, where various long scenes between Claire and Fiona occur that seem to have the same repeated theme of “I’m human like you” to hit us over the head with. The film’s pacing is enough to put the audience to sleep, only to then awaken them with an unearned scare that leads to a predictable and unsatisfying conclusion. As we approach the final scenes, we reach no solid main idea or conclusion.
While I found the concept of real-world witchcraft to be clever and fresh, riffing on concepts also present in Logan and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale with its subtle dystopian aesthetic, overall Witch Hunt feels confused, resulting in a film that will please some but overall bore or frustrate others. It’s not enough to introduce the idea and then rely on genre tropes to carry the story, and Witch Hunt does a tremendous amount of that to keep itself afloat. Furthermore, while I do appreciate that the witchcraft elements of the film are subtle, what we do see of them are lackluster, with the exception of a few fun and intriguing visual effects from time to time. Ultimately, Witch Hunt is an interesting enough social experiment that loses momentum halfway through.