Imagine a world where witches are real and walk among us like regular people. However, the practice of witchcraft is deemed illegal and an entire federal task force, the BWI, is in charge of enforcing the laws in some of the most brutal ways possible. Such is the setting in the film, Witch Hunt, which premiered at this year’s SXSW.
The story follows a high school student named Claire (Gideon Adlon) who resides in a town close to the American/Mexican border. There is a deep societal prejudice against witches and many attempt to flee to the neighbors to the south to seek asylum. There’s an organized underground movement that helps these pariahs escape and Claire soon finds herself aiding two young witches avoid law enforcement and reach safety.
Witch Hunt successfully utilizes its main conflict as a means to address current political and social issues. The hysteria and polarizing views on witchcraft along with the introduced legislation to preemptively punish any known witch associates harkens back to McCarthyism. The fact that only women are sought out is not lost. There are no warlocks in this world. It’s noticeable that predominantly white men forcing their beliefs on others, usually at gunpoint. In this movie we have women, but you can insert any oppressed minority.
There are some strong performances from the cast including Elizabeth Mitchell who plays Claire’s mother. She provides a stable foundation for the film and it’s her character’s actions that pushes her daughter into this reflective journey questioning society’s norms and beliefs. Adlon develops good chemistry with co-star, Abigail Cowen, who plays one of the witches Claire protects named Fiona. It’s interesting to watch Claire and Fiona’s relationship evolve and how Fiona’s presence begins to influence Claire and shape her thoughts.
It’s not all politics and those expecting some suspense and thrills will not be disappointed. There is a formidable witch hunter that is chillingly portrayed by Christian Camargo. He and the BWI use a fascinating mix of conventional methods found in lore against witches while combining them with more updated techniques and technologies. The witch hunter’s pursuit of his prey offers a tense game of cat and mouse. In addition, the supernatural aspects create some creepy moments. Director and writer, Elle Callahan, builds the mystery behind Claire’s true history with several scenes filled with foreshadowing as well as the motivation for her mother.
Witch Hunt is a supernatural thriller that utilizes the backdrop of witchcraft as a clever tool to represent bigger societal and social themes.
SXSW runs from March 16th-20th, 2021.