Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (Tommy Wirkola, 2013)

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a blend of fantasy adventure and horror, and a reworking of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow), a product of the Gary Sanchez Productions (Will Ferrell and Adam McKay), Hansel and Gretel is a brainless sometimes-fun splatter fest about sibling witch hunters who are hired to rid a village of a witch plague and find eleven abducted children. I have a very vague memory of the fairytale (something about breadcrumbs and a gingerbread house?) but this unnecessarily gratuitous slasher version (which pushes the rating into MA territory, eliminating the accessibility to part of the clear target audience) has lots of unpleasant things - witches, trolls, Sabbaths, a disposable supporting cast and frequent doses of woman beating.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are the titular orphans who have honed their gun and bow skills (and learned how to be indestructible, seemingly) following their infamous killing of a witch in their youth. Inexplicably left alone in the forest by their parents in the middle of the night they stumble across a house made entirely of candy. Lured in by the sugary delights they find themselves confronted by a witch who locks away Hansel and forces him to devour more treats – resulting in lifelong diabetes and required EpiPen injections – before she is stabbed and burned by Gretel. Following the title sequence, where we are informed about their celebrated professional endeavours and their vengeful bloodlust, we are taken to the small town of Augsburg. Having stopped the town’s Sheriff (Peter Stormare) from wrongly convicting a beautiful woman, Mina (Pihla Viitala), of suspected witchcraft, they are hired by the mayor (Rainor Bock) to seek out and eliminate those responsible for the abduction of the children. Along the way they learn of an approaching Sabbath and uncover some secrets about themselves and their past. 

This is not a film that takes itself seriously, and if you’re willing to drop your guard from the beginning and accept that this is a film created purely for entertainment purposes, there is enough energy and B-grade blood-and-guts sensibility to be just that. There are some self-aware jabs at the stupidity of their actions as children in Renner’s bland narration, which bookends the film, but this doesn’t cover the fact that the film opens with such a dreadful sequence.

The action is relentless and the chase sequences at times quite inventive, but it is a pity most of them take place at night. With the 3D glasses on and the wild, scattershot editing, they are mostly incoherent. I know this is a dark fantasy story, but if you’re going to shoot a chase sequence through a forest, at least try and make it somewhat convincing. How Hansel and Gretel continued to so quickly reunite following their separation during these pursuits is baffling to say the least.

The action only subsides for horribly forced exposition, mostly through the fan boy questioning from one of the young townsfolk (Thomas Mann), an aspiring witch hunter. The script is abysmal, and when the film is trying to be witty and funny, the dialogue rarely backs it up. Even though Renner and Arterton seem to have some fun (though for the latter, who cops beating after beating, it is hard to believe) no one comes out of this looking good.

While there is plenty of cartoonish gore – several people explode as a result of witches’ spells and heads get squashed like watermelons – Arterton’s beating at the mercy of Stormare (a completely unnecessary sub-antagonist) and his cronies is not cool at all. While Gretel finds herself bruised–up and rescued by a grotesque troll, Mina repays Hansel with a naked romp in a healing spring.

Despite the film’s slim run time it all begins to feel repetitive. The length is perhaps the one saving grace because it possesses quite a lot of energy, and Wirkola ultimately doesn’t waste any of the characters and plot developments he introduces. It has some moments – the impressive transformations of grand witch Famke Janssen from a classy beauty to a craggily villain, and a few inventive touches such as a curse of ‘The Hunger For All Crawling Things’ - but in the realm of resurrected fairytales for the screen, which already includes failures like Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman and Alice in Wonderland, this might just take the cake.

My Rating:


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