Review: Witching & Bitching

           (From left: Carolina Bang, Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, and Pepon Nieto in Witching & Bitching)

            When you go to see a movie called Witching & Bitching, you expect a certain level of cheekiness.  But Alex de la Iglesia’s horror comedy exceeds expectations with its quirky weirdness.  It plays like Rob Zombie crossed with Pedro Almodovar: populated by unusual personalities, brimming with style and wit, and given to all manner of grotesquerie.  While it probably could have used a little more focus—we get the sense that the filmmakers took the “throw everything plus the kitchen sink in and see what sticks” approach—it’s entertaining and never boring. 

            From the opening scene, in which two men posing as “living statues” and accomplices dressed as cartoon mascots storm a bank, you know you’re in for an unusual ride.  Jose (Hugo Silva) insists on bringing his young son Sergio along; he’s divorced and declares, “I’m not missing my day!”  When he and partner in crime Antonio (a hunky Mario Casas) escape in a cab, they bond with the driver, Calvo (Pepon Nieto) over their issues with women.  The mix of action with funny, character driven dialogue is a lively one and recalls foreign directors like Jean- Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children, Micmacs). 

            The offbeat quartet eventually winds up at the home of a coven of witches, where Jose and Antonio vie for the affections of gorgeous punk Eva (Carolina Bang), tangle with Jose’s intense ex-wife Silvia (Macarena Gomez), and try to avoid becoming the main course for a massive Sabbath.  It’s worth noting that Bang and Gomez’s performances are among the strongest in the film; Bang, with her killer hairstyle, sleek wardrobe, and traffic stopping looks, is particularly unforgettable.  The plot ping pongs all over the place, but suffice it to say that comedy, suspense, and glop abound, culminating in a set piece involving chanting witches and a gigantic, distinctly female monstrosity.  (The coven also contains, interestingly, a pair of cross dressing men whose gender is never commented on.)

            My main issues with the movie were twofold.  Jose’s relationship with Eva, and the evolution of her and Silvia’s characters, were too hazily drawn.  I didn’t quite buy the former characters’ romance, while the latter, after a strong start, shifts a little too abruptly—and without explanation—into out there territory.             I was also troubled by a potentially misogynistic slant to the film.  While something as over the top and kooky as Witching & Bitching hardly seems capable of a seriously hateful message, it doesn’t quite challenge the men’s negative feelings about the women in their lives.  The witches are all nasty, vengeful characters; the only one allowed any redeeming value is Eva, who abandons her coven to join up with the boys.  Then again, de la Iglesia’s movie could be intended merely as a satire, exaggerating male gripes about the fair sex with humorous and horrific results.  Sometimes men are so bewildered and terrified of women that they might as well be cannibalistic witches.  And after seeing this striking, engaging oddity, any man would think twice before underestimating one.

Witching & Bitching opens tomorrow in theaters.

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