Witching and Bitching (2018)

Genres - Comedy, Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Horror Comedy, Supernatural Horror  |   Release Date - Jun 13, 2014 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - Spain  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Jason Buchanan

Álex de la Iglesia infuses the familiar battle-of-the-sexes comedy with a grotesque twist in Witching and Bitching, a characteristically outrageous romp that finds the veteran genre director returning to his fantasy roots following the surprisingly humane social satire As Luck Would Have It. Irreverent, fast-paced, and brimming with enough salty dialogue to justify the latter half of its title, this devil-may-care comedy may not rank among the director's best films, yet it displays just enough wit and weirdo energy to make it worth your time.

It was supposed to be a simple gold heist, but when the bullets start to fly, José (Hugo Silva) and Tony (Mario Casas) hail a taxi and speed off into the mountains. Further complicating matters is the fact that the robbery is taking place on one of the rare days when divorced José has custody of his young son Sergio, who is about to go on the ride of his life. Later, just when José and Tony think they've made a clean getaway, they stop off at a rustic tavern in Basque Country. Although the locals seem merely eccentric at first, it's soon revealed that a coven of witches dwell in the mountains, and the time has come for them to carry out an ancient rite. Meanwhile, with a pair of bumbling cops gradually closing in, the terrified thieves encounter a sexy witch gone rogue -- but even she may be no match for José's insufferable ex-wife Silvia (Macarena Gomez).

It's a testament to de la Iglesia's talent that even his weakest movies are impulsively entertaining, yet even after flirting with international success with his English-language thriller The Oxford Murders back in 2008, the director remains one of Spain's best-kept cinematic secrets. True, in recent years even his most loyal fans would be hard-pressed to deny that a sense of repetition appears to be creeping into his oeuvre (another vertigo-inducing climax atop a tall building, anyone?), but even so, it says something about his passion as a filmmaker that he's willing to take more risks in one movie than many directors take in ten. In this case, those risks include making an irresponsible and misogynistic father a protagonist, depicting a young boy as a pistol-packing bandit, and, perhaps most egregious of all (or cathartic, depending on your perspective), showing Spongebob Squarepants get pumped full of lead as Minnie Mouse gets a brutal police beatdown on a crowded city street.

Yes, this is without a doubt the same director who pitted a renegade priest against Satan himself in the Goya Award-winning The Day of the Beast. Fortunately for cult-cinema fans, his technical prowess appears to have developed independently of his overall maturity. Together with frequent screenwriting partner Jorge Guerricaechevarria, de la Iglesia takes the "Bitching" aspect of the title to the same comic extremes in the first half of the film as he does the "Witching" component in the second half. Given that the characters are so broadly drawn on both sides, it's hard to take offense at the juvenile dialogue that drives the movie to its sinister destination, and once the cannibalistic hags start walking on the ceilings, it's apparent that de la Iglesia and Guerricaechevarria are well within their comfort zones.

Of course, the same thing likely couldn't be said about much of the cast, but everyone here fully embraces the outrageous concept: Carolina Bang takes her role as conflicted witch Eva to volatile extremes, while Carmen Maura makes mother witch Graciana a formidable figure. Even the peripheral players get some of the film's most memorable moments, with an ill-fated cab fare and a metal-mouthed witch serving up some of the most effective sight gags. And once the climatic ceremony commences and the real fun begins, de la Iglesia displays yet again why he's one of the most deliriously unpredictable directors in contemporary cinema. It essentially goes without saying that his whimsical style and playful cynicism aren't for everyone, but for those with a twisted sense of humor and a love of warped films, Witching and Bitching casts an irresistibly demented spell.