Director: Álex De La Iglesia
Running time: 115 minutes
Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Yes. Yes, you can.
Overindulgence is the defining characteristic of Witching & Bitching, the wild but disappointing new horror-comedy from acclaimed Spanish director Álex De La Iglesia, a man who's never been known for his subtlety. In 1995, he went delightfully overboard with the Antichrist and other sacrilege in The Day of the Beast; he brought his hyper-exaggerated sensibilities to the Spaghetti Western genre in 800 Bullets (2002); and in 2010, Iglesia made his craziest motion picture yet at that point, the pitch-black dramedy The Last Circus, with circus clowns busting high-powered machine guns and burning faces with sodium hydroxide on orders from a hallucinated Virgin Mary.
When you watch an Iglesia film, you expect him to go as far as humanly possible, but with Witching & Bitching, his usually reliable brand of over-the-top thrills can't withstand the bloated, nearly two-hour running time. He certainly hits the ground running, though. The film opens with what could be Iglesia's greatest achievement yet: a mishandled heist in one of those "We Buy Your Own Gold" shops in which the perpetrators dress as a body-painted Jesus, a soldier, Spongebob Squarepants, a Minnie Mouse knockoff, and the Invisible Man. Also along for the robbery is Jesus', real name Jose (Hugo Silva), 10-year-old son, Sergio (Gabriel Delgado), who talks about not doing his homework in between shooting the two pistols in his hands. Once the cops show up, all hell breaks loose, leaving poor Spongebob pumped full of bullets and Jose, Tony (Mario Casas) a.k.a. the soldier, and Sergio fleeing in a taxi driven by a scared familyman. With the authorities and Jose's alimony-demanding firecracker of an ex (Macarena Gomez) pursuing them, the three men and a child team—plus an additional, whining hostage—seek refuge in a mansion occupied by a grandmother, mother, and sexy daughter trio that, yes, are actually man-hating witches.
Witching & Bitching is structured like From Dusk Till Dawn, and, like that Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration, the film's first, non-horror half is where it shines. When the dim-witted characters are simply "bitching," it's a riot. There's a madcap verve to Iglesia's comedy, with punch lines and visual gags coming so fast that it's easy to miss some—essentially a battle of the sexes, Witching & Bitching is too on-the-nose with its gender shots (i.e., most of the male characters' colorful anti-women banter), but Jose answering his ex-wife's phone call when it comes up as "Armageddon" on the cell's screen is that rare instance of Iglesia quietly inserting the humor rather than sledge-hammering it.
But then comes the "witching" portion, where Iglesia introduces a coven of black-clad, malevolent women that could fill a small football stadium. Without any brooms, thankfully, his female antagonists scale walls, walk on ceilings, and pray to a gargantuan ogre demon that looks like an extra from Troll Hunter, only with large, saggy boobs. Had Iglesia trimmed Witching & Bitching down to a leaner, filler-deficient 90 minutes, the witches' lair—with its impeccably Gothic and creepy set designs and initially manic energy—could have been a terrific horror free-for-all, but the momentum quickly wains here. A chained-up, hideous looking man, not dissimilar to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Outsider," confined underground becomes one of multiple new sub-plot points that diffuse the acceleration. Playing the witch family's gorgeous, love-yearning daughter, Carolina Bang is funny and compelling enough to off-set the supernatural with broad laughs—having the basement dweller reach up from under a toilet while Gomez's character is squatting pre-defecation is a bit much. Ultimately, the juvenile overshadows the clever.
A mixed bag of unruly ideas, Witching & Bitching is earnest with its lunacy—if only Iglesia had, for once, showed a little more restraint. Few other filmmakers have Iglesia's caliber of satirical shrewdness, which radiates here in moments like the floppy-boobed beast literally shitting out Sergio in a heated ritual that pits man against woman. It's a shame that you have to wade through so much narrative manure to arrive at those high points.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)