The Addams Family originated in the 1930s New York comic strip of Charles Addams (hence the name). But to Irish audiences they will be best known from a pair of 1990s superdrama films, starring Anjelica Huston as grieving mother Morticia Addams and Christina Ricci as her soul-stirring daughter, Wednesday.
The spirit of these horror-happy movies gets a Gen Z twist on Wednesday (Netflix, streaming from November 23). Here, the little goth girl’s Ricci metal is taken by Gina Ortega. The 20-year-old is a natural in the role of a sick teenager who takes revenge on bullies by taking out a piranha in his swimming class, who’s never seen a graveyard he didn’t want to hug or a big-haired man. He did not see the spider. I want to hug you.
With Wednesday, Tim Burton puts recent frustrations behind him and returns to basics. Shadows are long and menacing, humors drier than a freshly broken fibula
Gothic fun is marshalled by Tim Burton. He has, of course, a track record in emo-escapism as the director of Edward Scissorhands and creator of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He directs four of the eight episodes and is an executive producer.
With Wednesday he’s put recent disappointments behind him – did you know he adapted Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s home for special children? – and Burton returns to basics. Shadows are long and menacing, humors drier than a freshly broken fibula. A perfect rococo soundtrack is Britten’s regular cover courtesy of Danny Elfman. It’s so deliciously Bretonesque that you almost expect his old pal Johnny Depp to come through complete as a rock ‘n’ roll zombie.
Wednesday is more than a faithful continuation of the Addams Family spin-off brand. We are introduced to the forbidden “fame”: Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia, Luis Guzman as Gomez, and Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. But this is a Wednesday story. The rest of her cast is a big supporting role (although Zeta-Jones completely dominates the screen when she comes on for a full episode halfway through).
Resting the entire effort on Arteaga’s shoulders as Wednesday is a big question. She’s up to the task, though, and is a revelation as Wednesday, whose disruptive behavior at school sees her family send her off to Nevermore Academy. The alma mater of Edgar Allan Poe (“Quote the Raven ‘Nevermore'” is a line from Poe’s poem The Raven), it is a college for wizards. True to that billing, it looks like something the Brothers Grimm might prepare if all of the Harry Potter novels were forced back to back.
The vibe is very bleak for the summer, as Wednesday has to contend with bullies, academic rivals and love interests, including the local sheriff’s son Normie (Hunter Doohan). Puberty, of course, is a horror story on its own. In the case of Wednesday, it affects such terrible traits as restlessness and self-esteem issues. (His Hooter is rooted in fear of rejection.)
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a literal monster in the forest, tearing passers-by apart. Our fearless heroine is quick to break the connection between the murder and going to her school. If there is a cover-up, though, who is behind it?
Never, like institutions everywhere, the closets are full of skeletons. These secrets are guarded by Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Playing a kind of morally ambiguous Dumbledore, Christie pulls it off to perfection – as does Ricky, in grunge-era Wednesday, as a dotty teacher (and Tori Amos looker) with a Venus flytrap obsession.
Still, the real star is Ortega, who brings the deadly Yellow Wednesday to life as a lost girl with a complicated social life. It all adds up to a terrifyingly compelling watch – and suggests, as a bonus, that Tim Burton may have recovered his macabre mojo.