The Addams family originated in a 1930s New Yorker comic strip (hence the name) by Charles Addams. But to Irish audiences, they’re best known for two hilarious 1990s films in which Anjelica Huston played grieving matriarch Morticia Adams and Christina Ricci played her soul-shrunken daughter ,Wednesday.
The ethos of these creepily hilarious flicks got a Gen Z twist on Wednesday (Netflix, streaming from Nov. 23). Here, Jenna Ortega takes on Ricci’s goth little girl style. The 20-year-old, who so naturally plays the role of a sick teenager who takes revenge on bullies by unleashing piranhas during swimming lessons, has never seen a tombstone she doesn’t want to hug or a big hairy spider she doesn’t want to hug want to hug.
On Wednesday, Tim Burton put his recent disappointments behind him and went back to basics.Shadows are long and creepy, with a drier sense of humor than a recently excavated fibula
Gothic fun directed by Tim Burton. Certainly, as the director of “Edward Scissorhands” and the creator of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” he has a track record of escaping emotions. He directed four of the eight episodes and was an executive producer.
On Wednesday, he put his latest disappointment behind him — did you know he adapted Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Special Children? — and reverted to Burton’s basics. The shadows are long and creepy, and the humor is drier than a recently dug fibula. The rococo soundtrack is provided by Burton regular Danny Elfman. It’s so deliciously Burtonesque that you can almost expect his old collaborator Johnny Depp to thump like a rock zombie.
Wednesday is more of a spinoff of The Addams Family than a faithful continuation of the brand. We are introduced to the forbidding “family”: Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia, Luis Guzman as Gomez, Fred Armisen as Uncle Fest. But that’s Wednesday’s story. Her other children play mostly supporting roles (although when Zeta-Jones shows up midway through the episode, she completely dominates the screen).
Putting all that effort on Ortega’s shoulders on Wednesday is a big ask. However, she was up to the task and was a revelation on Wednesday, when her disruptive behavior at school got her family to send her to Nevermore Academy. Edgar Allan Poe’s alma mater (“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore'” is a line from Poe’s poem The Raven), a university for magical outcasts. Indeed, it looks like something the Brothers Grimm might have made up if forced to read all of the Harry Potter novels back-to-back.
The summer vibe is very ghoul-like, as Wednesday must contend with bullies, academic rivals and love interests, including the ordinary son of the local sheriff (Hunter Doohan). Of course, adolescence itself is a horror story. In Wednesday’s case, it has horrors such as severe introversion and self-esteem issues. (Her arrogance stems from fear of rejection.)
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a veritable monster in the woods, tearing apart passers-by. Our terrifying heroine is quick to connect the killings to what happened at her school. But if there is a cover-up, who is behind it?
Nevermore, like institutions around the world, has closets full of skeletons. These secrets are protected by Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Playing a sort of morally ambivalent Dumbledore, Christie pushes it to perfection – like Wednesday’s trash-era Ritchie, as a deranged teacher obsessed with Venus Flytraps (similar to Toria Amos) .
Still, the real star is Ortega, who brings bleak Wednesday to life as a lost girl with a complicated social life. It all makes for a very compelling watch – and, as a bonus, suggests that Tim Burton may have returned to his horror mojo.