Catching up with Hansel and Gretel 15 years after their incident involving a gingerbread house, the siblings have evolved into bounty hunters who hunt witches.
It is friggin’ cold in NY acolytes, incredibly and painfully cold. It’s too cold to tell any jokes on how cold it is! Yet I trundled to a downtown theater to catch a screening of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” because that’s just the kind of black saint I am. Now what did I think of it? Was it worth freezing my tweedledum over? (Luckily my tweedledee was OK). More importantly, is it worth it for you to venture forth & catch it this weekend?
Well…let me get to the plot for a few sentences first. As children, Hansel & Gretel were spirited away from their home by their father in the middle of the night. Going deep into the forest, their dad puts them down and tells them to wait. Then he goes away and leaves them to fend for themselves. The two of them wander off together, lost & with no one else around to guide them. and what do you think the two of them come upon after a short walk? Yup, a house made entirely of gingerbread & candy. And they immediately smile & begin to chow down on their delicious find until a witch appears from inside and drags them both inside where Hansel is being fattened up for dinner and Gretel is chained to a wall (For dessert I suppose). But amazingly the young duo not only manage to escape but they fry the witch while they’re at it as well. Goodbye innocent lost children…hello WITCH HUNTERS!!
Cut to some years later and we find our witch wasting wastrels in the town of Augsberg, Germany. Actually they arrive just in time to stop the town sheriff, Berringer (Peter Stomare), about to execute the beautiful Mina (Pihla Viitala) for the crime of practicing witchcraft. Luckily for her the now grownup Hansel (Jeremy Renner) & Gretel (Gemma Arterton) arrive to rescue her from the slightly overzealous sheriff and his ragtag crew of deputies. When their motives are questioned, they announce that they have been hired by the town mayor, Engelman (Rainer Bock), to hunt and kill the witch who has been stealing away the children of the town. Eleven have vanished so far and H & G figure out that twelve is the magic number that the witches are shooting for, but why? Well it has something to do with a so called “Grand Witch” named Muriel (Famke Janssen) and she has a far more sinister objective than anyone can imagine.
Written & directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow), “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” has a silly but functional idea attempting to make it entertaining. Who among you ever thought to put those two names up on a theater marquee followed by “Witch Hunters” and then write and direct the movie that goes with it? That’s part of the problem though, it’s such an apeshit wacky idea that it’s impossible for anyone to take it seriously. And Wirkola doesn’t seem to know what direction he should take it in either, which is odd since he wrote it. It veers wildly from wild anime style action to outright horror to comedy (Sometimes all within the same scene), and more often than not only succeeded in making me dizzy.
A movie like this really isn’t dependent on anything more than action though and to it’s credit, “H & G” succeeds on that account. It’s pretty much slam bang, non stop action from the first frame to the last and gave me very little time to catch my breath, which worked in it’s favor because if anyone actually had the time to focus on what’s going on they’d realize that very little of it makes any sense at all. Wirkola creates a world that includes elements of steampunk, gothic adventure, martial arts, modern artillery, gore & humor that always threatens to go over the edge but just manages to avoid making a really big mess. The actors here aren’t looking for Oscar nominations and they know it so they just do what they can to have fun. Famke Janssen really tears up her role as Muriel though I kept being reminded of her “Dark Phoenix” role in “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), especially when she changes into her true form. Gemma Atherton is lovely to look at but I don’t think she’ll be including this on her resume & Jeremy Renner, as usual, does an excellent job of portraying an emotionless sheet of cardboard named Hansel. There is one other character of note here, an animatronic troll named Edward (Derek Mears). While his appearance is jarring at first, the big lug grew on me (& Gretel as well. Eventually he becomes a member of the team. Hus animatronic visage looks stiff at first but he does elicit some sympathy as the film continues. He reminded me of a large Muppet with a bit more character in his face but I think he would’ve played better in smaller doses.
The production design felt (& in some instances looked) cheap. Some major action set pieces are so obviously staged on sets that a lot of the suspension of belief that the film relies on is non existent most of the time. But the film is suitably grey & moody looking enough to get by. The makeup designs on Muriel’s army of witches ranges from ordinary to extremely derivative. I saw witches that looked like members of Slipknot, cenobite witches, Midian (Nightbreed) witches & evil dead witches (Especially Muriel). And apparently all of them know some form of martial arts as well. Among the gadgets H & G have at their disposal are automatic pistols, holy water, Gatling guns, ninja throwing stars, and a defibrillator machine as well. Yeeah, I said a defibrillator machine, a portable hand cranked one at that. All of these look incredibly cool but even for me it was a stretch to believe what I was looking at. The film has fun with some tried and true tropes of the “Missing child” genre such as milk bottles with pictures of missing children drawn on pieces of paper attached to them and newspapers with headlines featuring news of H & G’s latest witch conquests. Little touches like this are fun to discover and add a nice dollop of charm to the film. But a really silly subplot that (Thankfully) isn’t followed up on is Hansel’s apparent case of Diabetes in which he has to inject himself every so often with a ridiculously large syringe filled with who knows what? This was a really stupid idea and kind of belittles what a true diabetic has to deal with everyday.
None of this equals deal breaker status though. This film was supposed to be released last year but sat on a shelf for a year before getting released and I can hazard any number of guesses why but in the end I gotta say that while it’s an extremely stupid film, it’s a enjoyably stupid one. It never lets up on the action, has some pretty cool gore & a few ticks of nudity as well. One last thought, it’s painfully obvious that at least 20 minutes were cut out of this before it was released. Hacked out is more like it actually, the plot just ignores a few story lines completely after their introduction and never gets back to them. If you try to pay too much attention you might lose your mind so just watch & enjoy it.
I really thought this was going to be a train wreck of a movie…and I was right! But while it’s eminently forgettable you’ll have a good time as you watch it. If you’re looking to completely disconnect your brain for a short while, this is your movie for the weekend. Too much fun to dislike, it’s the “Best Worse” film of the year so far.
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” – 3 out of 5 shrouds.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)