For me, like many others, Halloween is synonymous with Kenny Ortega’s 1993 film, Hocus Pocus. When Disney announced the sequel, I had my doubts that they could recreate the energy and fun of the original, but I’ll happily watch anything starring Bette Midler. Unfortunately, Hocus Pocus 2 falls woefully flat in practically every way.
This film follows Becca and Izzy, two teenage girls with an interest in witchcraft. Every year, they perform a ritual in the woods to mark Becca’s birthday, but this year they are tricked into lighting the Black Flame Candle, sparking essentially the same plot as the first film. The Sanderson sisters come back and are determined to survive past sunrise, while our protagonists try to stop them before time runs out. The key difference here is the subplot, which rather than featuring a resentful brother learning to love his annoying little sister, is about Becca and Izzy having to reconcile with their estranged friend Cassie.
At its most basic level, this was a very poorly constructed film. The pacing was terrible, with the main character conflict being resolved in the middle of the second act, leaving us essentially no reason to care about these characters as we approached the climax. On top of this, the tension provided by the Sanderson sisters was minimal at best. They spent most of the runtime trying to find and kill Cassie’s cringey dad in order to complete a ritual which would allow them to wreak unspecified destruction upon Salem. It is only at the end that they turn their attention to Cassie, who has nevertheless barely been in the film. With such a nebulous overarching threat and such a rushed, premature emotional resolution, why should we care about anything we’re seeing onscreen? The audience is never given a reason to be emotionally invested, and it feels like we’re just going through the motions the whole time.
One would hope that without a strong plot the comedic performances of its three stars would buoy Hocus Pocus 2 somewhat, and they do… slightly. Midler, Parker, and Najimy commit wholeheartedly to their roles, but there’s only so much they can do with such unfunny material. The humour relies entirely on repeating lines and scenarios from the original and on making cheap meta criticisms that don’t stand up to scrutiny. The witches are confused by every modern thing they come across, even things that they definitely encountered in 1993 (cars, for example), to the extent that it makes up the majority of the movie, probably because there’s so little actual story to pad it out.
Beyond its technical failure, however, Hocus Pocus 2 is as soulless as the Sandersons’ victims. The entire thing feels like a checklist of selling points. Most glaring was the capitalisation on nostalgia, but perhaps even more unpalatable was the carelessly co-opted “feminism”. In the prologue, we find out that the sisters became witches because Winnie refused to get married, and later on Becca makes a quip about legends of witches being based on “the patriarchal fear of female aging”, but the film clearly has no genuine interest in exploring this statement. Witchcraft as a metaphor for female power doesn’t work quite so well when the witches’ canonical goal is to kill children in exchange for youth and beauty. The general sisterhood theme feels similarly insincere when Winnie spends the entire film berating her sisters and lamenting their idiocy.
Hocus Pocus 2 is ultimately just another in a long line of unoriginal Disney cash grabs, and, unlike some others of its ilk, it can’t even boast technical proficiency. It’s plodding, lifeless, dull, and could easily have been 15 minutes shorter. Its sole saving grace is the energetic performances of the three villains. Definitely give this one a miss.