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Practical Magic (1998)
Director: Griffin Dunne

review by Jeff Young

Compare and contrast this quirky but predictable and safe romantic fantasy with superior chiller, The Craft, and any number of downmarket, direct-to-video horrors about ouija boards. What this lacks, and they all have in common, is a sense of conviction in the supernatural material without any hedging or double meanings. Practical Magic wants to be a creepy tale about three generations of witches and a family curse, but it falls too easily into pleading for tolerance of modern pagans, and cinematic metaphors about obsession and childish wishes fulfilled.
   Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are orphans raised by maiden aunts - both traditional witches casting spells over a bubbling cauldron of animal, vegetable and mineral. While flighty adventuress Gillian (Kidman, not especially convincing as a slut here) leaves town, sister Sally (Bullock, adorably wifey) - the homemaker - settles down with doomed husband and two pretty daughters. Things turn nasty when Gill is assaulted by brooding Croatian cowboy, Goran Visnjic (now a regular heartthrob on TV hospital drama ER), who returns to haunt the family estate as a ghoulish spectre after Sal unwittingly poisons him. Real world troubles then intrude as a state investigator (Aidan Quinn) arrives in town on the trail of murderous lover boy Visnjic. As we have already seen whispered suspicions of the local people turn to open hostility in a moment of witchy finger-pointing, the deplorably feelgood ending - complete with Mary Poppins in-jokes - is a terrible letdown I'm afraid, revealing as it does that this movie was made with a heart of juvenile fun instead of a mind for serious drama.
   All told, Practical Magic is closer to Disney's lifeless Hocus-Pocus than Nicolas Roeg's brilliant The Witches.
previously published in VideoVista #15
Practical Magic
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