Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
It’s not going to win any awards for, well, anything, but Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, quite frankly, could have been worse. In ads, the new film written and directed by Tommy Wirkola ("Dead Snow") appears to be nothing more than a new CW show to air right after "The Vampire Diaries." But instead, it’s a bloody theatrical twist on the classic tale of a brother and sister who survive a witch’s clutches after getting trapped in her house of candy.
This is how "Hansel & Gretel" opens. Having been rushed out of their home by their father (Thomas Scharff), the two children are left alone only to realize mommy and daddy aren’t coming back. Then they find the candy house. Meet the witch. And burn her alive.
Cut to "many years later" and Hansel (a waste of Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (a plucky Gemma Atherton) are a brother and sister kick-ass Terminator duo seeking out the filthy supernatural vixens and taking them out with some homemade weaponry. But when the small German town of Augsburg is missing eleven of it’s children, H&G decide to stay and find out if the witches are responsible. And if so, save the kids.
A few superfluous baddies are thrown in by way of Peter Stormare as the egotistical Sheriff Berringer and a plethora of witches. But it is Muriel - the ultimate Bitch Witch - played with over-the-top sultriness by Famke Janssen that is causing all the dismay. Little does anyone know that she holds the secret to what really happened the night H&G’s parents were killed and why Gretel can’t seem to be killed by any of the witches.
Eventually, Hansel teams up with a beauty named Mina (Pihla Viitala) and Gretel ends up palling around with one of Muriel’s henchman: an ogre named Edward (Derek Mears.) As for the plot, there isn’t too much for the leads to do except find out where the kids are and how to stop the witches. Which is a good thing. This isn’t a film where subtlety and nuance are celebrated. Nope. This is about slicing and dicing witches and occasionally stomping on the heads of the bad guys. It’s gory, excessive, and all done with a sense of wink-wink nudge-nudge that tells us we shouldn’t be taking any of this seriously.
The first time we are clued in to the tone of the film is when Augsburg (in a much earlier century) is selling bottles of milk with the missing children’s pictures on it. That’s funny. Some of the framing of scenes is purposely done to reveal people at just the right ridiculous minute. And when Hansel reveals that he ate too much candy as a kid and now has to take some "medicine" every few hours or he’ll grow weak, we are sure we can’t take any bit of this seriously. The problem is, there isn’t enough of this humor and some of it is missed by the audience anyway.
The plot itself is fairly straightforward and the action scenes can look a bit confused when the 3D is added on top of it. That said, there are some nifty fight sequences and Atherton is truly an ass-kicker. Sadly, there’s not much else and it does grow thin by the end of its scant 88 minute running time.
The one thing that is great, however, is the fact that most of the special effects were practical. When witches jump on long sticks to fly away, it’s done live on set. When we meet ogre Edward, he’s an actual actor in a costume. Most of the stunts are done by stunt-people. This isn’t a film where CGI rules the day, and that fact alone is really refreshing. There is a charm to it that makes it seem like a very adult and violent version of the Bette Midler/Sarah Jessica Partner Halloween classic, "Hocus Pocus."With a little "Never Ending Story" to go with it.
Look, this isn’t art. It’s not even good. But it has some cleverness and it’s made with a sure hand. There are certainly worse movies to fill an hour and a half of your time with. So if you want to sit back and enjoy something a little old school with some contemporary humor, this nut-fest is for you. It might not be good, but it doesn’t totally suck, either.