Film Review – Hocus Pocus 2
Hocus Pocus 2
I should get this out of the way: I am not as enamored with Hocus Pocus (1993) as others of my generation. For many kids that grew up in the ‘90s, it has become a touchtone of nostalgia – required viewing every Halloween as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is with Christmas. I did not see it until adulthood, so I do not have that connection. From an outsider’s perspective, the adoration is in the same vein as The Goonies (1985), where its resonance can be directly tied to the age in which we first saw it. Admittedly, there is an edge to Hocus Pocus that makes it better than most family films. On the other hand, its campy and goofy nature does wear out quickly.
With that said, if you liked the first one, chances are you’re going to like Hocus Pocus 2 (2022). Director Anne Fletcher and writer Jen D’Angelo repurpose the plot of the original into this installment. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy step back into their roles of the Sanderson Sisters – “The World’s Most Powerful Witches” – with ease, to terrorize the town of Salem twenty-nine years since their last appearance. This time, they are met with a trio of high school girls – Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) – determined to stop them. Along for the ride is the lovable zombie Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones, who returns as well). We also meet shopkeeper Gilbert (Sam Richardson) who witnessed the witches as a kid and became an obsessed fan.
The production brings the same qualities to this entry as the first, which is both a good and bad thing. Everyone is game in their respective parts – no one appears to be operating in neutral. This includes Tony Hale, who plays both the town’s mayor and a key figure in an opening flashback. However, the narrative operates with such high energy that it becomes exhausting. Just like before, the Sanderson Sisters gesture, exaggerate and posture like kids on a sugar high. Midler, Parker, and Najimy are obviously having a blast, but they exist in a single gear. Playing witches will call for a specific type of performance, and I can see how kids will be drawn to these characters. But if you’re not immediately bought into what is happening here, you’re not going to be won over the further along we go.
The production design and art direction relegate events to a handful of locations, each one unremarkable. The cinematography and editing capture visuals in bland medium shots, cutting back and forth between an on-screen gag and a facial reaction. Nearby forests are shrouded under fog and darkness, characters pass by the same streets and buildings repeatedly. Song and dance numbers leave little impact. During one set piece, dancers stop in the middle of a routine and simply walk away. The production values leave much to be desired. This is most notable during an extended sequence within a pharmacy. What’s supposed to be a joke about the sisters’ confusion of modern-day living drags on, as they try beauty and health products like magic potions, freak out over their reflections in a mirror, or stop to take a selfie with random strangers.
Part of what made ‘80s and ‘90s family films so memorable was their willingness to inject legitimate danger. Return to Oz (1985) and Labyrinth (1986) didn’t hold back from being dark and scary – it left an impression on youngsters. The first Hocus Pocus fell right in line with this mindset. The Sanderson Sisters sucked the life out of children to preserve their own youth – there was no question that they were villains. Hocus Pocus 2 takes this dynamic and flips it with an origin story that makes them tragic figures. While the intention is earnest, this change takes away from what made them fun to watch. We enjoyed seeing bad characters doing bad things, but this time they’re viewed with a more empathetic (and less interesting) lens.
In contrast, a good amount of effort is placed in fleshing out the relationships among our new protagonists. Becca, Izzy, and Cassie all feel like living characters with their own problems and concerns. The first act is devoted to establishing their strained friendship. They were once a tight-knit group, but life gradually pulled Cassie away from Becca and Izzy. It also doesn’t help that Cassie is the daughter of the mayor, which is an important fact once the witch’s plan comes to fruition. Once things start going south, the three must find a way to work together before all is lost. I’m not saying this is a deep character study by any stretch, but it’s handled well enough to make them worth rooting for.
I am clearly not in the targeted demographic of Hocus Pocus 2. Those who are will probably get what they want. In terms of legacy sequels, this could have been a lot worse, but how much is that really saying? If you’re looking for a story that takes the Sanderson Sisters to new and exciting places, you might come away disappointed. But if you want to revisit some old friends and reminisce about the good times, then this might be right down your alley.