Night two of midnight shows at Fantastic Fest brought Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching & Bitching to the big screen for its US debut. Those familiar with his most recent work, The Last Circus, know that his style is often crazed and highly energetic with a myriad of things happening all at once. The same style choices carry over here at many points during some of the more manic sequences, particularly a pawn broker robbery at the start of the film. However, the real achievement in Witching & Bitching is not those action sequences (and granted, they are very well done) but rather the many bickering scenes involving the quintet of male characters at various stages. The spark and rhythm of these arguments are truly wonderful: a kind of Pedro Almodovar meets Woody Allen-type of vibe. Crackling and funny and great.
The film starts its focus on a group of robbers who plan a heist of a gold/pawn broker shop in a busy commerce center in Madrid. Members of this crew disguise themselves as various novelty characters including Spongebob, a toy soldier, Jesus, Mickey, Minnie etc to pull off the job and plan their getaway out-of-town. No muss no fuss. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this plan will go to hell in a hurry and it most assuredly does but not before taking a cab driver (and his passenger) along for the ride too. Mixed in this mess is Jose/Jesus with his son along for the adventure, all the while juggling his ex-wife’s constant calls and haranguing him about when their son has snacks and their activities. This less-than-ideal robbery outcome flings our crew headlong into a poorly planned escape route through a creepy small town and into a seriously bad situation with a coven of human-meat-hungry witches. The men must try everything they can to somehow make it out in one piece and, often tougher, get along and deal with each other in the process. Witches spells (played for laughs and effective most of the time) play a role in this from the mid-point on and seem to speaking symbolically to some of the men’s earlier conversations about women and their ‘powers.’ This is only as funny as you allow it to be i.e. not to be taken seriously or be offended.
The film is at its absolute best when the heart shines through and the zany is mixed with the grounded. There felt like a few too many ‘weird for the sake of it’ decisions and, ultimately the vibrant energy and mad-cap aspect of parts of the film wore me out a bit. But, I’ll take energy and forward momentum and a splash of imagination around every turn versus something not nearly as thought out or cared for as this film very clearly is.
A fun, oddball horror-comedy about disagreements and danger and witches and robbers and family values and a whole lot more. Fun to be sure.