Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
BY PAUL BEIMERS —
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the latest installment in Hollywood’s newest trend of reimagining classic fairytales as mature cinematic fare. Like many of these recent offerings, director and writer Tommy Wirkola’s attempt at a witty retelling of the old yarn, bread crumbs and candied houses tale largely fails to live up to its promising concept. Instead, the result is a film that, while not terrible, will be forgotten and dismissed the moment the viewer leaves the theater.
Wirkola certainly has an interesting premise to play with, make no mistake. The film establishes the familiar story within the first few minutes, with siblings Hansel and Gretel left in the woods by their father and nearly eaten by a witch living within a gingerbread house. In the original tale, the pair’s story ends with them shoving the crone into her oven. Here, the opening credits quickly establish the basic idea of this retelling: the two, with no family to call their own, spend the years after their ordeal traveling the country and honing their professional witch hunting skills in the process. The remainder of the film finds the two (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), now fully grown, in the town of Augsburg, where they are hired by the mayor to save the local children who have been captured by a coven of powerful sorceresses, led by Muriel (Famke Janssen).
Unlike many recent films of a similar nature, Hansel and Gretel stands out with its “R” rating, which results in plenty of over-the-top gore, nudity and swearing. It is clear the filmmakers were aiming for a comedy/horror hybrid, simultaneously funny and frightening in its excessiveness. The problem is neither of these come across fully. The humor is scant and rarely genuine, while the serious elements are too cheesy to work effectively. The result is a story that feels like an indecisive mess rather than a clever meshing of genres.
Thanks to its 88-minute running time, the movie’s biggest strength lies in its quick pace, which ensures the story never lags. However, this is also one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. With such a limited frame of delivery, the story relies on a steady stream of coincidences and convenient encounters to move the sequence of events along. Despite their apparent prowess in combat and their arsenal of admittedly cool weapons, the titular siblings spend much of the movie being rescued by secondary characters, who always seem to inexplicably show up precisely when needed. The relationships developing between the main duo and these other players are, for the most part, meaningless; they happen too quickly to have any sort of emotional impact and are clearly included only to provide an easy way out when an issue arises.
It is all so ineffectual that the film is only mildly entertaining and nothing else. Each of the movie’s well-done elements are overshadowed by a glaring fault of some sort, whether it be the aforementioned grievances or additional issues like poor special effects and acting ranging from so subdued it is monotonous to so excessive it is silly. The dynamic between the siblings is rather nice, though not explored to the extent it could have been, and there are a handful of beautifully shot sequences marred by the fact that every one of them was shown in the trailer. The general inoffensiveness of the film ensures it is not wholly awful, and worth a viewing if one is looking for a bit of escapism. Those wanting something with a bit more substance, however, will want to skip this ultimately hollow Hollywood confection.