It’s midnight and in the depths of an imposing forest, stands a wooden cottage with two concerned parents conversing over their sleeping children. They’re roused and told to follow their father. A frantic rush that leads them away from any sign of civilisation culminates in the unthinkable, he snuffs out his lantern, leaving them children alone. After the crushing realisation that he won’t return, they attempt to escape the forest, but instead, happen upon a cabin made of candy. That’s the tantalising, slightly revisionist opening, to latest piece of contrived Hollywood ‘unoriginality,’ Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters from writer/director Tommy Wirkola (and co-written by Dante Harper).
After the titular children Hansel (Cedric Eich) and Gretel (Alea Sophia Boudodimos) overcome the well-known and particularly grotesque witch to save their lives there’s no decision required, let’s immediately hunt down and kill every last one of those craggily bitches by either decapitation or incineration. Now you, like this reviewer, may be wondering why in hell wouldn’t you just run screaming with elation that you were alive back to your parents to give ’em the old; “so WTF with the abandonment?” Well because this movie needs a plot and because the target demographic (13-18 year old American males) can believe in a single-minded, vengeful blood lust in pre-teens. Fast forward in time via ‘doodle’ animatic and we’re lead to present day where witch hunting badasses Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are hired by the mayor (Rainer Bock) of a village to help rid their surrounding wood of a witch plague, responsible for kidnapping eleven of the town’s children.
The time that the film is set is one where women are considered ‘witches’ if they step outside of their wench station. Wirkola and Harper’s script ends up feeling like payback to that damned fairer sex. There aren’t tussles on the precipice of pillow fights but ladies get the rough end of the broom. The witches are more grotesque than ever; Gretel cops repeated beatings, only manages to win the heart of a grotesque Troll (hilariously named Edward) and becomes a tool for sacrifice. This is contrasted by Renner grunting, running more than Tom Cruise and being saved by a smoking hot redhead who shags him for her trouble.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters takes Stephen Sommers’s Van Helsing as the model for recreating this Grimm period piece. Even without a that films ridiculous hunchback ‘Q’ (David Wenham) Hansel and Gretel have a remarkably advanced ‘ye-olde’ arsenal containing a Gatling gun, a rapid fire crossbow and explosives that fundamentally drains any potential suspense out of the climactic action sequences. In the early combat one on one Hansel and Gretel take a beating taking down one witch, and yet the collection of wiccans gathered for the finale present no threat whatsoever against the out of time weaponry.
Famke Janssen’s Muriel shows off the awesome design elements of the evil females. These aren’t your Practical Magic ‘Sandy Bullock’ witches; these are the nightmarish ladies with brooms and spikey hair that would make Hellraiser swoon. Unfortunately that’s where sugar high ends.
Renner has exhausted the good actor moniker by delivering yet another insignificant and autopilot performance. Apart from a total lack of chemistry with Arterton, his general laziness in the characterisation really reaffirms the directorial prowess of Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Joss Whedon to extract a meaningful performance from the actor. Renner also delivers one of the all-time worst ‘phoned in’ narrations. He sounds like Ferris Bueller’s teacher doing roll call.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters has the hypnotic allure of a candy-coated house but in reality, it’s a diabetic coma.
and a half
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Written by: Tommy Wirkola, Dante Harper
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare, Famke Janssen