Witching and Bitching (2013)
High-profile Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia has built a bit of a reputation for himself with his grotesque, amped-up visions and darkly comedic storytelling — complete with socio-political hints — generating titles such as The Day of the Beast (1995) and The Last Circus (2010), though, the oddly titled Witching and Bitching may possibly be his wildest creation yet. Busting with inter-gender rivalry, particularly the frustrations of men, Witching and Bitching — whose Spanish title is Las brujas de Zugarramurdi — perhaps also serves as a vehicle for de la Iglesia to vent frustrations over his real-life divorcé from wife Amaya Díaz. This unashamed crowd-pleaser blends magic with misery, delivering ghastly images and madcap situations that play directly to de la Iglesia’s distinct style of filmmaking while burning a welcome amount of energy in an attempt to amuse and repulse in equal measure.
The picture opens with an unruly title sequence displaying images of Margaret Thatcher and Angela Markel juxtaposed with famous witches and then proceeds to wins viewers over with its aggressively outrageous opening act — a riotous smash-and-grab heist where characters are dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants, Jesus Christ and one of those plastic green army guys you’d buy at the $2 Store. José (Hugo Silva) has had it with his ex-wife, Silvia (Macarena Gómez), who is fighting for custody of their ten-year-old son, Sergio (Gabriel Ángel Delgado), and plans to rob a Cash-for-Gold outlet with a group of unknown accomplices to attain currency for his court case. After stealing a bag of rings, things go terribly wrong for the crooks, and José, his son Sergio — who assists his father during the robbery — and accessory Antonio (Mario Casas) all end up in a taxi, driven by a down-and-out cabbie Manuel (Jaime Ordóñez) — the men instantly form a connection as each was somehow spurned or diminished by their wives, ex-wives or girlfriends.
In an effort to escape authorities, the group drives deep into forests of Basque Country, to the town of Zugarramurdi, where they cross paths with a peculiar bar owner, Marichu (Terele Pávez), her daughter Graciana (Carmen Maura) and granddaughter Eva (Carolina Bang). It’s not long however, until the men figure out that Zugarramurdi is home to a coven of crazed cannibalistic witches, who lure the protagonists into their wicked trap as a critical Wiccan ceremony draws near. All the while, the men are being tailed by Silvia and two police officers, Inspector Pacheco, (Secun de la Rosa) and Inspector Calvo (Pepón Nieto) — operating as a bantering buddy-cop duo — who are hot on the outlaw’s trail.
Honestly, Witching and Bitching would probably be offensive if it weren’t so damned silly, overplaying demonization of women by claiming that ‘all women are witches and/or bitches.’ That said though, the film features large amounts of actual ‘bitching’ — both genders take jabs at each other that may be unerring — but it’s never too hateful or severe, although some of the divorcé humor might ring true in de la Iglesia’s case, or be rather cathartic. The film really takes-off when the ‘witching’ hour begins, and we are treated to playfully subversive gothic fun where witches use frog squeezings for restorative purposes and conduct business while casually walking on the ceiling. The picture’s final act — which takes place during a ludicrous ritual, staged lie a rock concert, and includes the likes of a repulsive, unexpected, monstrously CGI creature — might be a bit too insane for some, being both energetic and frenzied, its easy to lose track of proceedings.
With the zany satire aesthetic of the picture, some of the cast may have been chosen due to their natural cartoony features. Leading males Hugo Silva, El cuerpo (2012) and Mario Casas, Three Steps Above Heaven (2010) have an awesome dynamic between one another as the bickering heist runaways José and Antonio, while Gabriel Ángel Delgado, All Is Silence (2012), definitely pulls his weight as José’s son Sergio, alongside these seasoned professionals. Javier Botet, Mama (2013), is interesting as Luismi, a deformed oddball who resides beneath a bar toilet and de la Iglesia regular Enrique Villén, The Last Circus (2010), makes the most of his screwball-bit-part. When it comes to the witches, Terele Pávez, The Day of the Beast (1995), excels as Maritxu, the matriarch of the coven, coming-off as a convincing spell caster. In spite of this, Carolina Bang, The Last Circus (2010), steals this show, as Eva, a lusty, youthful witch, whose manic grin will remain with viewers long after the picture is over — Bang certainly knows exactly what to do with her broomstick, that’s for sure. It’s interesting to note that Bang, who is now dating de la Iglesia, serves as José’s ‘replacement wife’ in the picture, just as serves as de la Iglesia’s ‘replacement wife’ in reality, mimicking the director’s actual marital state of affairs.
Utilizing its vibrant cinematography by Kiko de la Rica, Blancanieves (2012), Witching and Bitching constantly looks fantastic, resembling an intense haunted-house ride involving spine-chilling locations, ghouls and sexy, leather-clad witches. Director Álex de la Iglesia keeps things inventive, favoring low tracking wide lenses reminiscent of an early Peter Jackson, balancing the right mix of gore and comedy, whilst keeping the frantic narrative afloat, securing his picture’s entertainment value. The eerie pulsating score by Joan Valent, As Luck Would Have It (2011) only enhances de la Iglesia’s striking visuals and the flick’s unsettling occult vibe.
While the whole ‘battle of the sexes’ aspect is a tad overplayed — leaving neither side looking particularly favorable — de la Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching is a wickedly amusing movie — albeit slightly overstuffed — a smorgasbord of larger-than-life comic and horror ideas; the film stands as a brash, loud, anything-goes, throwaway guilty-pleasure. Keep an eye out for, I’m So Exited! (2013), stars Santiago Segura and Carlos Areces — almost unrecognizable — as a couple of gossipy household witches.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Witching and Bitching is released through IFC Films