Witch Hunt - Film Still
Written and directed by Elle Callahan, Witch Hunt occurs in an alternate modern-day timeline where Witchcraft is real and illegal in the United States. The main character is Claire — a normal girl whose mother acts like a reverse coyote - harboring illegal witches to help them escape to Mexico, where they can be free.

Premise. While Witch Hunt has a fantastic premise, it manages to skimp on plot and characterization. It is pretty clear what this movie is going for — the witches on the run from unjust persecution are supposed to draw parallels to the current border crisis in the U.S., as well as the plight of Jewish people who hid in attics during The Holocaust. Mixing past and present to both reflect our current political climate and show its potential extremes. Witch Hunt seems to have started with a clear idea. In addition, movies about witches and witchcraft are gaining popularity in recent years. Why wouldn’t they be? So many teenage girls in America go through a witch phase, plus there are plenty of genuine witches and wannabe witches in the world. Witches are a wonderfully scary and beloved figure to base a film around.

Still from Witch Hunt (2021)

Structure. The great premise lost somewhere in the (writing) process. Much of the runtime feels lost to useless elements. For example, several minor characters are given quite a bit of screen time to no effect. Also, the dream sequences throughout the film are repetitive and contribute little to the narrative. There are a million different directions the premise had a chance to take, but the filmmaker chose no direction at all.

Genre? Witch Hunt is seemingly genreless. It isn't scary, nor is there any horror ambiance created, but there are jump scares. The film is too shallow — without character, personal conflict, etc. — to be a drama. Politics or social issues are not present enough for it to be a social issue film. The world is not fleshed out enough to be fantasy. There's not enough of a cat and mouse game for it to be considered a thriller. It wanted to be everything, and yet, it became nothing. There are a lot of missed opportunities for dramatic tension that could've made the film more compelling. Witch Hunt’s lukewarm approach to everything makes the viewer constantly longing for more.

Jump scares. Witch Hunt suffers from the incorrect use of jumpscares. Instead of using jumpscares to release tension built up from a skillfully created atmosphere, there are loud random sounds. For example, one man hits another, and the punch impact was a jumpscare. The punch itself isn't a surprise, but the loud noise that matches it is. In another example, a jumpscare gets used when a door is closed. You know when it's closing, which means that the loud noise was there for no reason. The film neglects to create a creepy or unsettling atmosphere. There is some horror imagery, but not enough to be scary. Witch Hunt seems like it wants to be a horror film, but isn’t committing to it all the way.

Image from Witch Hunt (2021)

Character actions. The film relies on child actors to lead the film, yet none of the performances are particularly strong. The dialogue doesn't make their jobs easy. Often expository and lacking any subtext, the dialogue is the primary tool used to convey information. In addition, the characters often act in senseless ways. A character is in peril nearby, and instead of running to their aid, other characters yell from where they are. Though magic is illegal and punishable by death without trial, two characters use magic in a crowded bar in full view of everyone. Towards the end of the film, the main character displays an inordinate amount of bravery. Bravery was not a part of her character previously, nor was it a part of her nonexistent character arc. She just all of a sudden became the bravest teenage girl ever. These are a few examples among many.

Weak characters. The main character's friend group at school is a group of girls who hate witches. Her friends never bring up real reasons or even philosophical points. Instead, they use straw man arguments, which makes the protagonist look like a morally upright person. Similarly, the hunter acts like a caricature of a “cool guy” — where he could've been a compelling and terrifying antagonistic force in the movie.

Witch Hunt is a film that started with a great idea that was,
unfortunately, unable to be developed further.

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