Yeeech. Just in case you were pining for a schlocky retread of Van Helsing or Terry Gilliam’s disastrous The Brothers Grimm, here’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which takes roughly the same concept, aims lower, and hits a bullseye. Truth in advertising: I think you know exactly what kind of movie this is going to be from the title alone. As bad as this movie is, I cannot say I expected anything better.
Along with Red Riding Hood, Beastly, Alice in Wonderland, Mirror Mirror, and Snow White and the Huntsman, Hollywood is loving these revisionist takes on traditional fairy tales, which come with name recognition and no licensing fees. Up next: Jack the Giant Slayer, from director Bryan Singer, coming to Prague screens on April 4.
Of course, the story of Hansel & Gretel doesn’t exactly lend itself to a feature-length film; here, the children make it out of the witch’s gingerbread house before the opening credits so the story can head off in a new direction. By new direction, I mean the same direction this dreck always ends up in.
After their encounter with the witch, Hansel and Gretel developed a taste for revenge. Flash-forward 15 years and brother and sister (now played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) are travelling the countryside renting out their services as professional bounty hunters. They’re good at what they do because they’re immune to witches’ spells, for reasons of plot convenience.
Early scenes draw an uncomfortable parallel between the actual existence of witches in the world of the movie and the hysteria surrounding real-life witch hunts. Hansel saves a fine young maiden (Pihla Viitala) by sticking his fingers in her mouth; “you gotta check their teeth – witches can’t fully hide their true nature.” Otherwise, yeah: burn ‘em at the stake.
In the town of Augsburg, Germany, children are going missing. In an example of what amounts to the film’s anachronistic sense of humor, their sketches are taped to the sides of milk jugs. Ho ho. I must admit I chuckled when it was revealed that Hansel, after being force-fed candy by a witch in an attempt to fatten him up, had become a diabetic. But when this turns into a major plot point, I groaned.
Anyway, the bounty hunters are called in to assist by the mayor (Rainer Bock), much to the dismay of his sheriff (Peter Stormare). There’s a head witch (Famke Janssen, admittedly cashing a paycheck) hatching a plan of sorts, and by the time the plot delved into alignment of the moons and pure blood, I tuned out. For all the silliness – and blood, lots and lots of blood – thrown at the screen, this thing is an outright bore.
I did like one aspect of the film: the incorporation of traditional effects work. While there’s a lot of CGI employed, I was thrilled to see a major character – a troll played by Derek Mears – realized with (gloriously cheesy) practical effects.
The twangy score is credited to Atli Örvarsson, with an above-the-line credit to Hans Zimmer as “Executive Music Producer”. The soundtrack is, to put it kindly, heavily influenced by Zimmer’s work on the Sherlock Holmes films.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is the Hollywood debut for Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who previously made the Kill Bill spoof Kill Buljo and the Nazi zombie horror-comedy Dead Snow. His competent but completely uninspired work here is unlikely to earn him much recognition. Silly, bloody, and utterly bland, this is destined to please only the least demanding audiences.
In Prague, the film is screening in both 2D and 3D. The 3D here – a post-production conversion – is entirely unmemorable.