There is a hell of a metaphor and a hell of a premise on display in Witch Hunt. It’s the sort of set up that suggests a potentially captivating film. Unfortunately, this one is not that, as it never builds upon that foundation. The flick remains all thesis and almost no execution, staggering any impact that would otherwise be found within the story. As a SXSW curiosity, it was often posited as a potential breakout hit from the festival. Well, I’m here to tell you that this movie is not going to be that. As these things often are, it’s the first draft of something much better.
Witch Hunt would work better if more of the world was developed. The idea is utilized in a number of fairly basic ways, often content to remind you of how it ties into current political times, though never really being eager to make an engaging film. You can serve both masters without sacrificing in either regard. This movie struggles with that, to the point of ultimately not being a successful work.
Set in an alternate version of modern times where witches are real, the magical women are persecuted by the government and population. Magic and practicing witchcraft is outlawed, with even more serious measures on the ballot. Claire (Gideon Adlon) is a garden-variety teen, outwardly indifferent to witches, which in and of itself puts her at odds with her more populist friends. At home, it’s a different story.
Claire’s mother (Elizabeth Mitchell) is participating in an Underground Railroad for witches, hiding them in her home before ushering them across the border into Mexico. When a current pair of magical sisters are left at their farm house for longer than usual, Claire begins to see them as more than just outlaws. As that transformation takes place, a government official (Christian Camargo) begins sniffing around, eager to capture the witches.
Gideon Adlon is the lead here and plays the part well, though she’s more reactive than anything. That limits how much you can really invest in her. Adlon is best in show, but honestly that’s not saying too much. While other players like Christian Camargo and Elizabeth Mitchell are fine, they don’t leave an impact. The same goes for Ashley Bell (utterly wasted), Abigail Cowen, and more.
Filmmaker Elle Callahan sure penned the start of a great screenplay, but she never builds on it. Callahan’s direction hints at more genre leanings at times, but this mostly just plays things straight. Whether it’s due to budget limitations or something else, the world stays too small. The premise suggests a huge canvas to paint on, but this just feels like an index card, and that’s disappointing.
Witch Hunt plays like a concept in search of a film. That likely won’t be enough for anyone who sees this outside of SXSW. Mostly, the potential of the premise is what really sticks in your craw here. This should have been so much better, given what the metaphor could entail. Alas, it wasn’t, though it gives me no pleasure to say so.