The Movie Waffler The Overlook Film Festival 2024 Review - HOOD WITCH | The Movie Waffler

The Overlook Film Festival 2024 Review - HOOD WITCH

Hood Witch review
A developer of an app that puts clients in touch with mystical healers faces a violent backlash when a consultation goes wrong.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Saïd Belktibia

Starring: Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant, Jérémy Ferrari, Ange Rot, Isma Kebe, Mathieu Espagnet

Following Ladj Ly's Les Misérables and Romain Gavras's Athena, Saïd Belktibia's Hood Witch is another French thriller in which someone tries to survive a night in a Parisian banlieue. This time the conceit is employed as a modern day allegory for witch hunts, but the metaphor is so on the nose that you're left to wonder why the movie doesn't just go all out and make the protagonist an actual witch.

Hood Witch review

Far from being a sorceress, Nour (Golshifteh Farahani) is a fraudster who makes a living exploiting those who believe in such things. She makes frequent trips to Morocco, returning with various lizards and reptiles concealed on her person, which she then sells to practitioners of witchcraft in the immigrant communities of the Parisian suburbs. The movie opens in striking fashion as Nour and her young son Amine (Amine Zariouhi) return from one such trip. Noticing something wriggling under Nour's clothes, the customs officer orders her to remove her dress, revealing dozens of baggies filled with reptiles attached to her body. Nour manages to sneak a few infant toads through, pulling them from her mouth via condoms attached to a piece of string like an Amsterdam sex show performer pulling beads from their...well, you get the idea.

Unfortunately Hood Witch never lives up to this early promise. It drops us into the fascinating underworld of modern day witchcraft that persists on the periphery of Europe's urban centres but can't find anything interesting to do with this backdrop. Nour develops an app that puts people in touch with various witches and sorcerers, and it proves a success, though its rapid rise is unconvincingly portrayed through a Tik Tok montage.

Hood Witch review

The success of the app makes Nour something of a local celebrity, but she makes some dangerous enemies including her aggressive ex-husband (Jérémy Ferrari) and some black magic practitioners she refused to allow on her app. The meat of the plot kicks in when Nour is approached by a father (Denis Levant) who mistakes his son's autism for possession. Following an exorcism held by a rogue Catholic priest, the boy commits suicide. This sees the locals turn against Nour, blaming her "sorcery" for the boy's death.

What follows will be familiar to anyone who has seen the aforementioned Ly and Gavras films, as Nour attempts to escape the banlieue in one piece. With Les Misérables and Athena you could buy into the motivations or their angry mobs, which in both cases were driven by revenge against a police shooting. It's not so easy to swallow the mass outrage against Nour however, which sees half of Paris turn into foaming at the mouth maniacs as they seek her out. We can understand an angry mob wanting to bring her to justice but the extremes taken here, including an attempt to burn her alive in another blunt allusion to past treatment of witches, are just too over the top to make sense in the film's real world setting. For this idea to work, the reality of the setting would need to be tweaked a notch ala District 13, the 2004 French action movie that likely inspired this current wave of banlieue set thrillers.

Hood Witch review

While Hood Witch lacks substance, it's not short of style. Belktibia fashions some undeniably arresting images. Along with Nour's coat of many lizards we get an apartment decorated in a bizarre manner by empty bottles glued to the wall, and there's a fantastic CG-aided shot that zooms up several flights of stairs in seconds, the invisible camera turning on each floor's lights as it passes. Belktibia may have set out to make a statement about religion and its treatment of women, but Hood Witch suggests his strengths lie in more superficial storytelling.

Hood Witch plays at The Overlook Film Festival from April 4th and will be distributed by MPI Media Group / Dark Sky Films.

2024 movie reviews