Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Review: ‘Witch Hunt’ Is a Thrilling Modern Twist on Witch Hunting [SXSW Online 2021]

MOVIESReview: 'Witch Hunt' Is a Thrilling Modern Twist on Witch Hunting

Written and directed by Elle Callahan, Witch Hunt is a modern take on the age old story of witches fleeing persecution like those of the Salem Witch Trials. Witch Hunt gives a compelling and strong story of the real world persecutions witches would face in modern America under new laws set in place to ensure all witches are eradicated. Amendment 11 makes practicing any magic punishable by death and the country is currently trying to take it even further with Prop 6 which would require all witch relatives to register with the government.

In a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, a sheltered teenager must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico.

Through the eyes of high school student Claire Goode (Gideon Adlon) we discover the revival of those witch finding tests of the 1600s, searches for witch marks, sink tests during which young girls are submerged, prick tests, and more have all made a disturbing come back. Additionally, death by pyre has also been revived, meaning any witch convicted will burn. Claire’s mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) operates as part of a secret underground route to help witches across the border to Mexico where they will be safe from persecution. Thus enters sisters Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and Shae (Echo Campbell), having witnessed their mothers death just three months earlier, they find themselves at the mercy of the Goode’s and the border town.

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As a Witch Finder working for the BWI, Bureau for Witchcraft Investigations, begins to zero in on their family, they are the only thing standing between Fiona and Shae and certain death. Witch Hunt is also a thriller with some downright scary moments that definitely made me jump a few times. The film beautifully weaves in Pagan iconography from the butterfly seen on Claire’s desk hinting at witch familiars to the witches who haunt her dreams representing the mother, the maiden, and the croon. Claire and Fiona form a bond throughout the film that bridges the divide of a them versus us mentality that Claire struggles with at the beginning of the film. Adlon and Cowen’s brilliant performances remind us that friends can be made in the unlikeliest of situations and that we cannot, and should not, ever judge a book by its cover.

Witch Hunt paints with a broad brush of hinting at ongoing modern issues like racism and the persecution minorities and women still face in this country. It features YA tropes within the story but is laced with elements of horror that feel like a call to action in fighting the patriarchal structure so often responsible for unjust persecutions. The haunting moments and compelling story keep you engrossed as Martha struggles to maintain her cover and Claire battles her own inner demons. No spoilers, but there is a fantastic final twist and quirky ending that sets Witch Hunt apart from other films and is definitely worth the watch when it hits streaming platforms or releases to the general public.

Check out the rest of our SXSW coverage here!

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