Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review – Fairytale Foibles

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Writer: Tommy Wirkola 

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Jannsen, Peter Stormare

Release date: January 25th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


Best part: Renner and Arterton.

Worst part: Janssen’s laughable performance.

Sometimes, Hollywood works in mysterious ways. It’s inexplicably both cynical and cyclical. For some reason, Hollywood’s latest craze has been to adapt well known fairy tales. Film (Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood) and TV (Grimm, Once Upon a Time) are sweeping through every classic Grimm Brothers story. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an example of how this plan can falter.

Renner & Arterton.

If you can’t stand the film’s premise – or even its ridiculous title – than be warned. The film itself is somehow a hell of a lot sillier. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), as we all know, survived a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a witch. In this version, their childhood survival tale inspired them to scour the lands for witches and dark magic. Celebrated for their witch hunting abilities, they wonder into a small town with their egos and weapons in hand. The disappearance of 11 children has prompted a state of panic throughout the cursed realm. These kidnappings are the work of terrifying witch Muriel (Famke Janssen). Hansel and Gretel soon realise there is more to this case than they ever could’ve imagined.

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

Taking this small story and fleshing it out is a brave idea. The story of Hansel & Gretel is one of the world’s most popular fairy tales. What is left, however, is a movie that tries too hard to cater to everyone’s desires. The film was pushed back from January 2012 to February 2013. This is never a good sign. The film, however, is not anywhere near as bad as it could, or possibly should, be. This is definitely a schlocky 21st century action flick. With this type of production, the film-makers have to convince the audience to look beyond the original idea. Last year, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter failed to live up to any kind of low-brow expectations. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, however, has done the best it can with dodgy material. Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola has proven himself to be a passionate film-maker. His surprise smash hit, Dead Snow, mixed two contrasting ideas- Nazis and Zombies. Here, he has swung for the fence. Trying his luck with both Hollywood and a much bigger budget, his latest effort is a mix of enjoyable and disastrous. It’s a hyper-violent and gratuitous 88 minutes. Expletives, nudity and blood splatters cover the screen at every turn. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a darkened twist on the legend, but still not a very inventive one.

Hansel & Gretel in action!

This is a buddy-action flick that should be enjoyed with a $10 mega-bucket of popcorn. Wirkola’s direction shows off a kinetic and glorious sense of style. He has a child-like vision for every setting and costume at his disposal. He was clearly inspired by Spanish master director Guillermo del Toro. The forest and village settings, for example, provide a dark aesthetic for this farcical adventure. Meanwhile, the anachronisms in this fantasy-actioner are laughable. This film is all over the map in multiple ways. The accents oddly range between American, British and ‘European’. Perhaps he was thinking that no one would notice. Even more noticeable is the materialistic touch every leather-clad costume and weapon is given. Their arsenal is light-years ahead of the film’s period setting. Fold-out rifles, chain-guns, stun guns and even defibrillators are all on display. So too is Van Helsing’s notorious crossbow gun. It’s easy to point out the stupidity of the whole thing. Wirkola understands this issue whilst providing an unapologetic and energetic B-movie. In fact, one could argue that this is the new Van Helsing – stupid, schlocky and star-studded. The script, however, has more holes than a severed head. With Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) producing, you would think the comedic elements would work. Instead, one-liners and comedic moments fall flat. The film lacks a necessary balance between tongue-in-cheek and straight-faced (see del Toro’s Hellboy series for a definitive example of how this should work).

“I hate to break this to you, but this isn’t gonna be an open casket.” (Gretel (Gemma Arterton), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).

One of many witches here.

Buddy-action flicks rely, to a certain extent, on the charisma of their actors. This is where the film marginally succeeds. In every scene, Renner looks like he doesn’t want to be there. When he delivers his lines, however, he displays why he is one of Hollywood’s most popular actors. Posing and smashing his way through every scene, he is still a likeable and convincing leading man. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia) is an underrated actress. Her ethereal beauty and soft voice light up the screen. She fares better than Renner here, proving she can compete with other female stars at the box office. Renner and Arterton’s chemistry distracts from the thin characterisation. Hansel and Gretel are your typical crime-fighting duo. They pose and fight with style whilst contrasting one another. Renner can play a cynical bad-ass better than most A-list actors. His version of Hansel is a predictably disturbed hero. Complete with an ailment that comes up more than once in the story. Meanwhile, Gretel is the optimistic presence. Her run in with a deluded fan-boy (Thomas Mann) is particularly charming. Mann, Janssen and Stormare become caricatures in this already over-the-top blockbuster.

Films like Shrek and Pans Labyrinth have already conquered this sub-genre. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a senseless yet enjoyable mix of dumb, dumber and dumbest. Even while relishing its opportunities, the film is still excessive and clichéd.

Verdict: Not ‘good’ but still enjoyable.

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