Review: The Magic's Gone in 'Hocus Pocus 2'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday October 1, 2022
Originally published on September 30, 2022

Watch out, trick-or-treaters: The Sanderson Sisters are back in a stale sequel that's not worth opening your candy bags to collect.

29 years after the wicked trio terrorized Salem in the 1993 original, sisters Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) Sanderson have been resurrected a second time thanks to a "black flame candle" and a young virgin whose 16th birthday falls on Halloween. Under the light of a full moon, the 17th-century enchantresses strike up peppy musical numbers and plot their revenge against the city that put them to death for their sinister ways three centuries ago.

What these three weird sisters don't reckon with is that they're now up against the wiles of three equally formidable 21st century teens, one of whom, Becca (Whitney Peak), is herself an unsuspecting witch just coming into her powers. By her side is longtime bestie Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). All our young heroes need in order to send the wicked Sandersons back to oblivion is to reconcile with the third member of their little friendship coven, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who's become estranged from them because... adolescence.

The film kicks off with a flashback to Salem in the 1600s, when the Sandersons were kids and the locals — including coded-queer Reverend Traske (Tony Hale) — had it in for them. The young Sandersons are more Addams Family oddball than out-and-out evil, reveling in their delight for all things creepy, but when the people of Salem threaten to split up their family, they flee to the woods. There, an encounter with a wicked witch (Hannah Waddingham) sets them on their path of diabolical depravity.

329 years later, the Sandersons still have an itch to exact revenge. Cassie and her father, Mayor Traske, being descendants of the reverend, seem like a good place to start. But first, the Sandersons need sustenance: Specifically, they need to "suck the soul" from an innocent before dawn, or face a prompt return to the grave. In one of the film's few moments of inspiration, Becca and Izzy dupe the sisters into believing that the local Walgreens has what they need for this purpose, in the form of youthfulness-promising creams and moisturizers.

Catching on to the ploy, the Sandersons gather their infernal accouterments — a living Book of Spells that resides in what's now a museum dedicated to the witches' legend, various house-cleaning implements that can be used as flying conveyances (including a dry mop and a pair of roombas; let's hear it for modernity!). Meanwhile, the teens strategize to save Salem, assembling their own arsenal of friends (including Sanderson lore expert Gilbert, played by Sam Richardson), protective herbs, and the occasional zombie (welcome back, Billy Butcherson [Doug Jones]!).

The film keeps the characters busy, whether they're fending off the city's destruction, pursuing a gourmet candy apple as a Halloween treat (the mayor's strange fixation), or learning life lessons about how it's uncool to demean people with careless, othering language (as is the case with Cassie's dull-witted boyfriend [Froy Gutierrez]). The Sandersons, in the meantime, confront the modern world with a mix of naivete and sass. They've evidently never heard of electric lights or automatic sliding doors, but they have managed to tune their ears to '80s pop classics like Blondie's "One Way or Another," which they use to turn the townsfolk into mindless servants of evil.

What's missing from this cauldron of capering antics is any sense of magic. The film offers some fine storybook design work (most notably in the woods outside of town, where a mystical, orangish full moon hangs low and enormous in the sky), but the inane screenplay (by Jen D'Angelo, based on a story by D'Angelo, David Kirschner, and Blake Harris) and Anne Fletcher's hyperkinetic direction find little substance to keep any flesh on these creaky narrative bones. Even the acting, which presumably is intended to seem zany, comes across as vapid and half-hearted. "Oh Mary, I cannot take another minute of this empty tomfoolery," someone exclaims early on, and already you agree wholeheartedly.

"Hocus Pocus 2" streams on Disney+ starting Sept. 30.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.