Special thanks go to the user nicknamed Crom for this review of The Witching Hour.
Hollywood operates much like the fashion industry, churning out seasonal offerings tailored to popular holidays. On Valentine’s Day, expect love stories; on Christmas, count on heartwarming tales; and come Halloween, prepare for spookiness. This year, while the adult crowd receives yet another installment in the never-ending Halloween franchise, the younger—or indeed, the youngest—audience is catered to by Eli Roth’s new film, The Witching Hour.
At first glance, Roth, a veteran director of formulaic slashers like Cabin Fever, Hostel, and The Green Inferno, seems as well-suited to adapt John Bellairs’ children’s book of the same name as Michael Myers is to babysitting. But upon reflection, if you want a film that will genuinely spook kids, Eli Roth might just be the perfect choice.
Set in the fictional backwoods of America, The Witching Hour introduces us to ten-year-old orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), who arrives in 1955 to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). It doesn’t take long for Lewis to realize that his new guardian is far from ordinary; Uncle Jonathan is a magician. Alongside his charming and equally eccentric neighbor Florence (Cate Blanchett), Jonathan scours the walls of his magical home, searching for hidden clocks designed to trigger something ominously unpleasant.
Children’s films have the liberty of embracing a higher degree of naivety without any shame, and The Witching Hour, with its PG rating, is no exception.
The constraints of a limited budget are palpable, and while Jack Black gives it his all, the film’s rating prevents him from truly cutting loose. However, the narrative maintains a brisk pace, keeping boredom at bay. And if you’re still not hooked, Eli Roth has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep you entertained.
Universal Studios clearly had high hopes that The Witching Hour would be their next big franchise, given the multiple stories centered around young Lewis. However, it seems that today’s audiences have matured beyond the days when films like Casper dominated the box office. While Roth’s film is a lively and entertaining spectacle despite its flaws, it’s unlikely to resonate with contemporary viewers.
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