Thursday, June 12, 2014

Witching & Bitching: Patriarchy Gets Slow Roasted with Potatoes

Where’s the mean old Generalissimo when Spain really needs him? Instead, male patriarchy’s last line of defense against a cult of cannibal witches will be two bumbling crooks and the cabbie they hijacked. Bedlam ensues in Álex de la Iglesia’s truly bonkers Witching & Bitching (trailer here), which opens tomorrow—late night—at the IFC Center.

The town of Zugarramurdi is sort of like Spain’s Salem, except it seems the witches still run the joint. An odd series of circumstances will bring Jose and Tony there at a particularly inopportune time. After their hold-up went down spectacularly badly, they commandeered Manuel’s cab, stashing his profoundly unlucky fare in the trunk. Of course, being a good father, Jose brought his son Sergio along. Unfortunately, he perfectly fits the bill for the apocalyptic ceremony presided over by Granciana Barrenetxea, the leader of the coven. However, the lads are a bit slow to realize their predicament, because they are so busy drooling and bickering over Barrenetxea’s daughter, Eva. However, Sergio’s disappearance soon snaps them out of it.

Perhaps to make amends for the dour and stilted As Luck Would Have It, de la Iglesia doubles down on physical comedy and gore. The resulting vibe could be considered something like The Evil Dead, by way of Mel Brooks. Few horror films were ever so hyper-active and eager to please. Simply maintaining the manic energy level represents quite a cinematic feat.

For those who know their Spanish cinema, Witching is practically It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. For everyone else, Carolina Bang utterly steals the show as the punky Eva. She delivers a wickedly sly, sexually super-charged performance in the tradition of Eva Green’s near redemption of Dark Shadows. Most of the rest of the cast serve as de la Iglesia’s puppets, getting tossed in every which direction, but Almodovar regular Carmen Maura (Pepa in Women on the Verge) adds a touch of class as Barrenetxea.

Witching is one of those all too rare films that so enjoys its own lunacy, it loses sight of its message. While clearly intended to satirize male chauvinism, it sort of winds up celebrating the resiliency of patriarchy. That is a good thing, because it means de la Iglesia was paying closer attention to the blood, guts, and gags than the teaching moments and take-aways. Thoroughly recommended for those who enjoy their comedy broad and macabre, Witching & Bitching screens just after midnight this Friday (6/13) and Saturday (6/14) at the IFC Center, with further weekday screenings to follow at select times.