Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is really just a Syfy movie on steroids. This is totally a Syfy Original Movie with a big enough budget to afford the necessary bells and whistles to help viewers somewhat overlook the fact that the plot and dialogue are senseless and the characters underdeveloped. It’s never the high energy, crazy cool genre-bending flick Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) so wants it to be. The action, the make-up, the visual effects, the kills: all competently done, yet never dazzling and missing that extra oomph, the wow factor that elevates a movie of this nature to cult classic status.
The film sat on the shelf for a year, according to reports, because the studio was hoping Jeremy Renner would be a bigger box office draw after The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. I don’t know about that, but I have no problem pegging him as the weaker half of the titular duo here. Gemma Arterton outshines Renner in every way, even managing to put a sardonic spin on lame one-liners that rely more on vulgarity than wit. At least she does up until the point she’s made more of a damsel in distress in need of rescuing by Hansel.
Renner is so one-note I began to wonder if he was unaware the tone was shooting more towards lighthearted, Raimi-esque horror comedy. Not entirely his fault considering Hansel is only defined by his prowess with a medieval shotgun and a never adequately explained affliction brought on by poison witch candy he was forced to eat as a kid that now requires him to inject himself with some never adequately explained antidote every few hours or else he’ll die. He wears a wrist timer to remind him of when it’s time for another dose; not sure why he needs it since his collapsing in pain at roughly the exact moment it chimes should be a sufficient enough reminder.
Anachronisms abound in this take on the Brothers Grimm classic fairly tale. High-powered firearms in a Middle Ages Bavarian forest. Crude newspaper-like clippings chronicling the exploits of our witch hunting heroes. The most uses of the f-bomb in a medieval fantasy setting this side of a Deathstalker flick. My personal favorite has to have been the drawings of missing children tied to the sides of milk bottles.
Witches that look like Deadite hags are abducting children from a village. The Mayor has called in Hansel and Gretel to deal with the matter. For reasons never fully fleshed out, the Sheriff (Peter Stormare, wasted in a nothing role that gives him little more to do than look silly wearing an eye-patch on his nose) hates Hansel and Gretel from the get-go. A Grand Witch (Famke Janssen, who has got to be one of the loveliest women on the planet because she’s still alluring even under make-up that has her looking like a zombified Maleficent) is preparing for a ritual ceremony to be held under a “blood moon” in a few days that will make all witches fireproof. This once-in-a-generation celestial gathering will be populated by witches that all appear to have arrived from the Island of Misfit Hellboy Extras.
To stop them, Hansel and Gretel will need a little help from their friends: a sexy young woman Hansel saves from being burned at the stake repays him by awakening his previously non-existent sexuality, an overeager Hansel & Gretel fanboy who very much would like it if Gretel awakened his sexuality, and a charming troll (Friday the 13th’s Derek Mears) named Edward that to me looked strangely like a Shrek version of Walter Matthau. A little of Edward goes a long way; too bad there is very little of him.
If someone were to tell me that this film was hacked to pieces by editors during the year it was shelved, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. The short running time, the heavy emphasis on getting things from one action scene to the next as quickly as possible, and certain story elements, particularly in regard to the fate of the mother and father, are so jumbled I found myself trying to figure out if Hansel and Gretel were supposed to be suffering from some sort of amnesia, and if not, then how did they not immediately realize they were in the very village outside of which they grew up?
For those wondering about the 3D, you’d think with all the bullets flying, blood splattering, bodies exploding, and witches zipping through the forest on brooms like Return of the Jedi speeder bikes that there would be more instances where the 3D effects would really stand out. I guess I’m at that point with 3D cinema where filmmakers really have to do something eye-popping to make me take notice.
One thing that I did take extra special notice of was the sight of one of Famke Janssen’s henchwitches; her head of not-hair was composed of the same spines that adorn the back of Godzilla’s ally, Anguirus. Every moment she appeared on the screen, I was transfixed by her spiky scalp for some reason. Why exactly, I’m not sure.
This one left me rather conflicted. It’s not very good to be totally honest, and listing its negatives is much easier than pointing out its positives. Mainly because its positives boil down to this: For a single viewing movie that I will never watch again and probably not give a second thought to upon completing this review, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters made for an acceptable diversion whose greatest sin was being an underachiever. Entertaining enough despite its many flaws isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, I know. I believe this is what Siskel & Ebert back in the day would have called a marginal thumb’s up.
Hey, it was still way better than Van Helsing.
3 out of 5