Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review
by Daniel Rester
What do you get when you mix together a classic fairy tale, two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, a Bond girl, producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and the director of Dead Snow (2009)? Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters of course. Hunters is the latest example of Hollywood debasing a classic tale, taking a harmless story and stretching it out. After many production delays and a settled release date for January (the dumping grounds for Hollywood, usually), it seemed that Hunters was doomed to be terrible and get crapped on by many critics. And while the film is indefensible and has been hated on already, I actually semi-enjoyed it for what it was.
Hunters opens with the original tale of the brother-sister duo Hansel and Gretel, who are lost in the woods away from their parents. The two then enter a house of candy only to be taken captive by a creepy witch. After breaking free and burning the witch, all other similarities to the Brothers Grimm tale end and the movie’s story elements kick in. According to Hunters, the two orphans grew up to become professional witch hunters, splattering the magic-users all across the land. After some children get taken from a village, Hansel and Gretel are hired to track them down and then kill the witches responsible.
In the mix of the plot we get a head witch that seeks to be immortal (Famke Janssen), an angry sheriff (Peter Stormare), a love interest (Pihla Viitala) for Hansel, a boy who admires the hunters (Thomas Mann), and a big troll named Edward (Derek Mears). There is also a small backstory to Gretel that connects to her mother, and the character trait of having diabetes (no joke) for Hansel – who must give himself injections in order to stay alive. But do we ever actually care about any of these characters or their arcs (or lack-there-of)? Of course not, but who really minds with a film like this?
Hansel here is played by Renner, while Gretel is played by Gemma Arterton. The two are solid and occasionally muster up some charisma, and actually give better performances than the film really deserves. All of the other acting is completely mediocre at best. Stormare is somewhat amusing as the sheriff, but Janssen is annoyingly over-the-top as the main witch (like the rest of the witches, too). And Edward the troll is actually pretty likable. He is created with some old-school practical effects that are refreshing compared to the usual CGI treatments of movie creatures.
The script of Hunters is atrocious, but it seems to be self-aware of that. Aside from the raping of the original material with the new concept, the movie also plugs in things that don’t fit with the film’s supposed time period as well. Such things include: many uses of the f-bomb in the dialogue, the use of a machine that resembles a modern-day defibrillator, and the use of machine guns that seem to use 50 caliber bullets. A lot of the dialogue is very obvious, as well, and some of the character reactions just don’t make sense (one “good guy” character thinks that it is awesome when an innocent villager explodes). Next to the script, the editing of the film is its other major fault; many of the action scenes are cut together in a rapid-fire way, making them quite monotonous at times.
Despite its myriad problems, though, I still found myself entertained by Hunters. The film actually opens with an interesting title sequence that seemed like a pop-up book put to film. The sets and costumes are also fitting, and some of the natural locations are nice to look at (like a waterfall area). I also liked the way Tommy Wirkola directed some of the action scenes, presenting some excitement in totally campy situations. Wirkola lets the blood fly and the punches land in acceptable fashion for these types of films. Though everything in the movie is ridiculous, I never found the film to be dull, which is a credit to Wirkola.
When all is said and done, Hunters is a dumb-but-fun film that could fit in the same vein as The Mummy (1999) or Van Helsing (2004) — providing 88 minutes of mindless escapism. There is nothing great here, but I didn’t hate the film like I expected to. I probably won’t remember it three months from now, but Hunters entertained me in-the-moment, which is better than what can be said about many January releases.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C+).