REVIEW: Witch Hunt (2021)

dir. Elle Callahan.

In an alternate modern-day America the witch trials have resurfaced, and with scaremongering by the government no-one is safe. As incoming laws bring further prejudices, Claire (Gideon Adlon) and her mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) help to ferry women accused of witchcraft to safety. All seems to be going well, until two sisters needing help bring the witch-hunters to their door.

Writer/director Elle Callahan sees potential in the premise, utilising it as an allegory for immigration under the last presidency. However inspiration appears to have stopped there, leaving an undercooked idea which, despite a number of Witchfinder General-inspired tests, fails to dig beneath the surface. The result is what feels like the basis of a young adult novel, and though YA adaptations can handle timely issues for a wider audience – such as 2018’s The Hate U Give – this feels more geared towards kickstarting a potential franchise.

That said there are interesting nuances, with matriarch Martha wishing to help those whose only crime was being born. If a neighbour starts to get nosy, she weaponizes prejudiced rhetoric as a smokescreen to hide her true actions, knowing how to play those who buy into the alarmist conspiracies. Meanwhile daughter Claire begins growing past her own ingrained preconceptions as she becomes closer to Fiona, one of the sibling refugees hiding in their home, though their connection leads to a scene which feels out of character, included purely to generate conflict.

This causes an antagonistic detective to descend on them, and though there’s little to his sullen archetype his appearance aligns with Claire’s troubled dreams, her asthma attacks also seemingly supernatural. All this feels like box-ticking as opposed to developments meant to engage, something most evident in the horror-tinged beats where potentially creepy moments are reduced to cheap jump scares – complete with loud noises and glaring effects work – more likely to make eyes roll than chill spines.

⭐⭐

James Rodrigues

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