An unfortunate effect of Jordan Peele’s masterly Get Out is the recent slew of horror flicks that have also attempted to double as explicit social commentary, yet end up either ineffective or tone-deaf. The slavery horror Antebellum is a prime example, as is the cringey trailer for the forthcoming Karen. And now we have this extremely clumsy film that hinges on the premise of a modern, dystopian US where magic exists but is outlawed.
The film opens with the literal and metaphorical definitions of “witch-hunt” being typed across a blank screen, so all hopes of subtlety fly out the window. The story explores a young girl’s growing pains amid the legal and social persecution of witches. High schooler Claire (Gideon Adlon) tries to fit in with her prejudiced friends while hiding her own fearful secret: her mother is a part of an Underground Railroad-like system that helps the witches cross into Mexico for asylum. Initially resentful of the operation, Claire confronts her own intolerance after developing a friendship with two orphaned young witches whose mother is burned at the stake.
Like a lot of low-budget horror movies, the VFX aren’t great; this would not necessarily be a problem if the film had crafted an atmosphere of actual suspense. En lugar de, random horror elements – jump scares and the like – are inserted into a story that would have worked better as a thriller. The political commentary is on even shakier ground: the film appropriates images of real-life oppression against people of colour, such as border patrol buses taking the undocumented to detention centres, but the witches are invariably white women – it is not only careless but downright offensive. Though examining how women’s bodies are controlled and surveilled by the state – there’s a scene where Claire is subjected to a medical examination for witch moles – such points ring grossly hollow. All in all, this is a horror that’s neither clever nor scary.