SXSW ’21 – ‘Witch Hunt’ Is Competently Made But Doesn’t Quite Stick The Landing

Signature Entertainment

In this modern America, witches are real and it is illegal to practice witchcraft. Elle Callahan envisions a story that takes our modern understanding of discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry and applies it to witchcraft.

The film follows Claire (Gideon Adlon) a sheltered teen girl who has recently moved to Southern California, mere miles away from the Mexican border. She harbours a secret, which is that her mom helps hide and facilitate the escape of witches. However, this is not the only secret as Claire is someone who is coming to terms with the wrongness of persecuting witches, and slowly becomes an ally when she befriends the most recent refugees in her home, Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and Shae (Echo Campbell). 

Witch Hunt is very much a film of its time. In a country that has reached a peak in regards to the refugee crisis and widespread inequality supported by the laws of the land, it is reflecting much of the countries history of marginalizing and discriminating against women and racial minorities. At times the film is too white feminist for its own good, boiling down very real issues with a nearly all-white cast of girls and women. However, an attempt is made to articulate the absurdities and horrors done in this country for the thinly veiled hatred for “others”.

For the most part, this film has a solid foundation. Interesting lore, witches are awesome, and a fairly top-notch cast. However, this film suffers from a lack of editing and fine-tuning. This film sadly drags on and feels repetitive. By the 20-30 minute mark, a lot of what is to come is already revealed by the lack of subtlety, and also by the nature of this narrative framing, you can sort of guess what’s the big secret in this film. At times the film feels like it could be flesh out into a miniseries, but ultimately, this narrative feature just needs more to happen, a quicker pace, and a tighter runtime. 

A tale about young witches attempting to survive a country that has made witchcraft illegal, that judges all women harshly for anything that can be deemed deviant, denies them their culture and heritage, and so much more makes for a very compelling narrative. A narrative about the resilience of women, the power within that has yet to be unlocked, all that and so much more is promised here but never truly comes to fruition in a satisfying way. 

All in all, Witch Hunt is a very promising feature from Elle Callahan, who also turned some heads with Head Shot. Witch Hunt had the potential to be great, but ambition is not enough to overcome poor editing. Hopefully, the next feature irons out these kinks. She certainly has all the tools to be an exceptional horror director, but with most things, time and practice make for greatness.

Witch Hunt screened at the virtual edition of the SXSW 2021

by Ferdosa Abdi

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