In Serbian film The Witch Hunters, Jovan is a boy with cerebral palsy who escapes the frustrations and sadness of his condition by imagining himself a bespoke superhero called Shade. His room is filled with a scale model of the city that Shade defends.
School is tough for him; he times his arrival late each day, so the other kids don’t see his gait when he walks in. The school bullies taunt him as a cripple. Despite his struggles, he has worked out a rhythm and a routine to his life nonetheless and is doing well. His mother and father dote on him and his family life is solid.
Adventure comes to his life in the form of Milica, a new girl at the school, who has just moved from a nearby town. She is seated next to Jovan, despite his protests that he must have the desk to himself.
“They brand themselves witch hunters and Jovan gets his Shade costume out…”
Milica is tough and restless and doesn’t back down. She chases the bullies when they try to torment her. Once she decides Jovan must be her friend, she bulldozes over his shyness with her determination, showing up at his house randomly asking to hang out, and soon he warms to her. His parents are thrilled he’s made a friend, and even more pleased he’s getting along with a girl.
They are each going through a difficult time; he hates his physical therapy sessions and rails against going each day. Milica is struggling with her parents’ separation. She is convinced that her father’s new girlfriend Svetlana is an actual witch who has ensorcelled him to take him away from her mother and herself. Jovan recalls his grandmother talking about witches, and after going through some of her old things to do research, he agrees to join Milica in a plan to dispatch the witch and return her father to the family. They brand themselves witch hunters and Jovan get his Shade costume out as they begin preparing to take on the quest.
“…very sweet and reminds us that the nerds and outcasts will find each other everywhere in the world.”
The film is appealing to adults and older kids. Younger ones might find some of the material too intense, particularly the plot to kill the witch. Despite it being ridiculously impractical, it still seems dark for a children’s tale. “Brothers Grimm” dark, so nothing new to children’s fables.
The burgeoning friendship between Jovan and Milica is very sweet and reminds us that the nerds and outcast will find each other everywhere in the world. They are both on the cusp of tween-hood but are not yet dealing with those stresses. We see them in the time of innocence before.
The Witch Hunters (2019) Directed by Rasko Miljkovic. Written by Marko Manojlovic, Milos Kreckovic. Starring Mihajlo Milavic, Silma Mahmuti. The Witch Hunters screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
7 out of 10