Wednesday, February 8, 2023

‘Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches’ Review: A Creepy, Entertaining Thrill Ride with Depth [SPOILER FREE]

TELEVISIONAMC'Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches' Review: A Creepy, Entertaining Thrill Ride with Depth...

AMC has made a big bet on Anne Rice’s content by creating its Immortal Universe. Interview with the Vampire has proven to be a critical and commercial success that managed to improve upon its source material, managing a tricky mix of the gothic romance that built its fandom with more modern takes on the characters and plotlines. It was refreshing in a way that book adaptations rarely are, not afraid to deviate from established story when needed yet always honoring the emotional truth of Rice’s work.

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches is another solid re-interpretation of canon sure to please fans, with top-notch production design and direction that elevates the material. Those familiar with the Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy will find a lot to love, but more impressively, those with no knowledge will easily be able to follow the complex family dynamics and time-jumping twists. The spooky elements of the series are intriguing and fun, but the human emotions are what compels the viewer to keep watching.

Mayfair Witches follows several generations of the Mayfair family and centers on Dr. Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario), a surgeon whose gradual realization that she has deadly powers collides with a larger destiny she was previously unaware of. Searching for answers about her birth family, she finds Ciprien (Tongayi Chirisa), who is charged with protecting her by a mysterious organization. As she begins to find out more and more about her gifts, Lasher (Jack Huston), the dark presence that haunts the women in her family, moves closer and closer to finding her.

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As with Interview with the Vampire, the production and costume design are both spectacular. Production designer Meghan Rogers and her team manage to create a New Orleans that is both distinct from and in alignment with the world established by Mara LePere-Schloop in the former series. It’s earthier and more sinister, especially the Mayfair family home. The house is a character in and of itself from the beginning, practically living and breathing alongside the humans, witches, and other monsters. Their talent and attention to detail is a marvel (especially the small nods to IWTV that fans are sure to catch). Shot on location in New Orleans like IWTV, the beauty of the series makes a strong case for practical sets over green screen even for shows with supernatural aspects. It’s an immersive viewing experience that grounds the more magical aspects of the narrative in reality.

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The same can be said for the cast. Daddario gives Rowan depth even beyond her book counterpart, unafraid to explore the fear and anger that make her a flawed, complex heroine. There’s always been an otherworldliness to Daddario, and Mayfair Witches finally gives her a chance to unleash it in full. Chirisa’s quiet, calm Ciprien is a great counter to Rowan’s spiraling, especially as we learn more about his own past. Lasher is one of the more difficult characters to translate from page to screen, but Huston proves he was cast perfectly with his sinister portrayal. Viewers who are more familiar with his turn as Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire will be surprised by his ability to play both charming and menacing. The larger ensemble is also excellent, especially Harry Hamlin as Rowan’s great uncle Cortland.

Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

The episodes made available for critics tease out the larger story slowly, and much like IWTV, the series is not afraid to challenge and update the more outdated aspects of the novels. Mayfair Witches delves into racist power structures upheld by the classic archetype of white feminist witches who will happily throw others under the proverbial bus if it means keeping power for themselves. Its central argument for the importance of intersectionality in feminist spaces exists right alongside the surface level narrative in the same way that IWTV centered queer discourse right alongside the bloodsucking. It also probes the terrible cost of losing one’s bodily autonomy and the powerlessness that comes with having to fight against larger sexist and racist forces. The true horror of Lasher is what he represents, not what he is capable of in a magical sense. Rowan is appealing as a protagonist not only because of her sympathetic plight, but also because of how her discovery of her own power is akin to a spiritual awakening. Who among us wouldn’t want to feel that kind of power coursing through our veins just once? There is a moral ambiguity to her actions that is instantly familiar to those who can’t easily pass into the inner circle of the patriarchy and thus must live with the consequences daily.

Mayfair Witches also manages to be a true supernatural delight, frightening in the right places and enticing in others. Fans raised on a steady diet of sci-fi and horror series as teens have been looking for this sort of content to satisfy them as adults, and Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches will certainly provide that and more. I have no doubt that the remainder of the season will live up to the promise the first five episodes show. If AMC wants to continue building out this world (as they appear poised to do after optioning 18 of Rice’s works), the Immortal Universe seems poised to provide the kind of adult oriented horror that other networks are missing out on.

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Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches will premiere on January 8 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC, AMC+, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, and WE TV. You can find our other coverage of the series here.

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