The Addams Family originates from a 1930s New York comic strip by Charles Addams (hence the name). But to Irish audiences they will be best known for a pair of super-droll films from the 1990s, with Anjelica Huston as sad matriarch Morticia Addams and Christina Ricci as her soul-shrinking daughter, on Wednesday.
The spirit of those ghoulish, gleeful movies gets a Gen Z twist on Wednesday (Netflix, streaming starting Nov. 23). Here, Ricci’s goth girl mantle is taken up by Jenna Ortega. The 20-year-old is a natural in the role of a morbid teenager who takes revenge on the bullies by unleashing piranhas in her swimming class, who has never seen a tombstone she didn’t want to hug or a big hairy spider she didn’t see. want to hug
With Wednesday Tim Burton puts recent disappointments behind him and goes back to basics. The shadows are long and creepy, the humor drier than a freshly unearthed fibula
Gothic fun is hosted by Tim Burton. He, of course, has a record in emo-escapism as the director of Edward Scissorhands and the creator of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He directs four of eight episodes and is an executive producer.
Con Wednesday puts recent disappointments behind him: did you know he adapted Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs? – and it’s back to Burton’s basics. The shadows are long and creepy, the humor drier than a freshly unearthed fibula. A richly rococo soundtrack is courtesy of Burton regular Danny Elfman. It’s so deliciously Burtonesque that you almost expect his old collaborator Johnny Depp to turn up as a rock’n’roll zombie.
Wednesday is more of a spin-off of the Addams Family than a faithful continuation of the brand. Introducing the forbidden “fame”: Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia, Luis Guzmán as Gomez and Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. But this is Wednesday’s story. The rest of her brood have a largely supporting role (although Zeta-Jones completely dominates the screen when she appears for a full episode halfway through).
Resting the entire effort on Ortega’s shoulders like Wednesday is a big ask. She lives up to it, though, and is a revelation as Wednesday, whose disruptive behavior at school causes her family to pack her off at Nevermore Academy. The supposed alma mater of Edgar Allan Poe (“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore'” being a line from Poe’s poem The Raven), this is a college for magical outcasts. True to that billing, it sounds like something the Brothers Grimm might whip up if forced to read every Harry Potter novel back to back.
The atmosphere is very disconcerting for Summer, as Wednesday has to deal with bullies, academic rivals and love interests, including the normal son of the local sheriff (Hunter Doohan). Adolescence is, of course, a horror story unto itself. In the case of Wednesday, it presents terrors such as paralyzing introversion and self-esteem issues. (His arrogance is rooted in a fear of rejection).
As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a literal monster in the forest that tears passers-by to pieces. It doesn’t take long for our horrible heroine to make a connection between the murders and the events at her school. However, if there is a cover-up, who is behind it?
It never, like institutions everywhere, has closets full of skeletons. These secrets are protected by Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Playing a kind of morally ambivalent Dumbledore, Christie brings it to perfection, as does Ricci’s grunge-era Wednesday, as a shy (and Tori Amos-like) professor with a Venus flytrap obsession.
Still, the real star is Ortega, who brings the pale Wednesday to life as a lost girl with a complicated social life. It all adds up to a horrifyingly compelling watch and suggests, as a bonus, that Tim Burton might have regained his macabre mojo.