Horror director Eli Roth’s first foray into family fare is a mixed bag, albeit one whose strengths outweigh its more glaring issues. First, the bad: The movie’s internal logic (in particular its approach to magic and spell-casting) is difficult to nail down, while the plot is so relentless that the audience doesn’t get a chance to take the movie in. Additionally, Jack Black is rather underused as an eccentric warlock, while Cate Blanchett is miscast as a no-nonsense, tart-tongued witch. But ultimately, there’s something about it that works despite its numerous drawbacks: Perhaps it’s Roth’s palpable enthusiasm for the project and his delight at showing off his carnival of (barely) kid-friendly horrors, or maybe it’s young lead Owen Vaccaro, who delivers a surprisingly poignant, versatile performance. Whatever it is, it’s the kind of project where one can see all its faults, and while it hampers the experience there’s still enough to enjoy to warrant at least one watch.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)