If you're unfamiliar with the name Alex de la Iglesia then you may have missed out on some of the most entertaining Spanish movies in the last two decades (and, yes, I am aware of how much competition those movies have). The man has given audiences one near-classic in The Day Of The Beast, one full classic in The Last Circus, and one of the best films that too few people have heard of, Perdita Durango. He also directed Accion Mutante, as well as quite a few others (that I've not seen yet, but am looking forward to getting to at some point).
And this film. Yes, Alex de la Iglesia definitely directed this film. You can tell within the first few scenes, mixing his usual healthy sense of humour with some decidedly twisted material. He also co-wrote the movie with Jorge Guerricaechevarria, and the two men once again decide to run with some entertainingly wild ideas.
Hugo Silva plays Jose, a man whom viewers first get to see dressed up like Jesus. He then takes part in an armed robbery, accompanied by a man made up to look like a toy soldier (Antonio, played by Mario Casas) and his young son. It soon becomes clear that Jose feels he was driven to this act by a sense of desperation, but while the three robbers flee from the police and think about their actions they end up heading towards a village full of witches. It's going to be an eventful night, to say the least.
I expected Witching & Bitching to be a lot of fun, and it was. There were witches, and there was a fair bit of bitching between the main characters. What surprised me, however, was the fact that this also spent a fair bit of time commenting on male emasculation in modern society. The fact that this commentary takes place around characters who often act like complete idiots saves the movie from feeling like a bitter rant against women, but only just. Perhaps I'm being charitable, so consider this fair warning to anyone more incensed by such "battle of the sexes" content.
Silva is constantly charming in the lead role, even as his character is displaying such major flaws from the opening scenes. Casas is a lot of fun, and the two men play off each other pretty well. Young Gabriel Angel Delgado is a lot of fun as Sergio, the young lad dragged along by his irresponsible father, and Jaime Ordonez is great as the driver of a cab hijacked by the fleeing criminals. As for the female characters, Carolina Bang is the star of the show. She plays Eva, a young, attractive witch who finds herself distracted by the appearance of Jose. Macarena Gomez is understandably on edge throughout most of the movie, being the ex-wife of Jose, and the mother of Sergio, and she gives a great performance. Terele Pavez and Carmen Maura complete the main cast, with the former acting senile and bemused before trying to attack people with sharp metal dentures, and the latter treating the whole night as one big potential dinner party. Carlos Areces also shows up, in a small but memorable role (and I felt I had to mention him because of his prominence in other movies from De La Iglesia).
Most genre fans will enjoy this a lot. It's quirky, visually stylish, mixes some decent action beats in with the supernatural shenanigans and humour, and the characters are all fun to spend time with. The special effects veer between the impressive and the amusingly clumsy (e.g. some shots of two women scurrying around on a ceiling look like test footage rejected by the Harry Potter movies), but that's the only technical complaint I have. Yet it doesn't come together as it should. Somehow, unlike his other movies, this feels a bit forced. Despite one or two bravura sequences in the final third of the movie, the second half feels like De La Iglesia trying desperately to make a De La Iglesia movie. I much prefer his output when he works harder to make it appear effortless.