Álex de la Iglesia’s last film, The Last Circus, blew me away with its dark and wholly unique vision (and its portly clown in a pope outfit firing giant machine guns, yeah). His latest genre fare, Witching and Bitching, also kicks much ass as it turns the battle of the sexes into a supernatural free-for-all. As the title suggests, there are witches (a whole lotta them) and there’s also a lot of bitching, mainly done by men who can’t stand the women in their lives and refuse to face their responsibilities.
During a wild heist in a bustling city square, a ragtag group of thieves hold up a pawn shop and barely get away with a giant bag full of gold rings. The leader, José, enlists the help of his 10-year-old son Sergio, since it’s his day to watch him and all. He’s not going to let something like armed robbery screw up his visitation rights. José, Sergio, and the third thief, Tony, hijack a cab and flee for France. During their drive to freedom, the men expound their frustrations about wives and girlfriends. Even the cab driver (now their forced wheelman) gets in on it and wedges himself into their gang of crooks, refusing to go back to his wife. This whole ridiculous scenario establishes de la Iglesia’s mad world and from here, it only gets more insane.
Through a series of creepy detours, the men wind up in the home of a family of witches – complete with a crone. Played by Carmen Maura, Terele Pávez, and (the stunning) Carolina Bang, the coven believes that Sergio is the “chosen one” essential to a ritual that will bring about the end of civilization. All three women are wonderfully fun in their roles, combining silliness with sinister as they entrap the gang and show them the real meaning of women troubles.
Like she was in The Last Circus, Carolina Bang is another standout here. She plays the youngest and most emotionally fragile member of the coven. I’d vote that she’s the most limber too, as she flies across rooms, climbs on walls, and performs something uncomfortably sexy with a broom greased with frog saliva (or blood, I couldn’t tell). She gets to put her crazy face on too, and trust me, you’ll know when it’s on because she looks bonkers. It’s gotta be one of the most gleefully crazy performances we’ll probably see this year.
Once all the pieces are in play, it does take a little while for the film to pick up again. Thankfully, de la Iglesia’s world is inhabited by a wide range of wacky characters to help the time go by quickly. The only two who didn’t really work for me were the other members of the gang who get caught by the police. Their scene feels like a superfluous sidetrack, but it does introduce two other great characters – so it balances out in a sense.
Much like The Last Circus, Witching and Bitching is an assault on your eyeballs. The gothic production design and small details everywhere are incredibly immersive. From the ghostly roadside bar to the witches’ old mansion, the settings are caked with atmosphere.
Providing a dose of history for the film’s tone is the stage for the film’s crazed finale: The Caves of Zugarramurdi, a place of alleged occult activity in 17th century Spain and home of the infamous Basque witch trials during the Spanish Inquisition. “Crazed” might be underselling the finale, actually. It’s beautifully insane and throws a lot of surprises in – nothing I’ll spoil though. There is, however, a bit of heavy CGI that doesn’t look so hot. Any shortcomings with the digital effects can be overlooked though if you just let the wave of insanity roll over you.
With Witching and Bitching, Alex de la Iglesia once again uses his dark eccentricities to bring his funny, frightening vision to life. His take on witchcraft is entertaining as hell from beginning to end and contains tons of genuinely gnarly and creative ideas.
Do not miss this bad bitch when it hits VOD and theaters June 13.
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