Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review: Grimm Isn’t Win

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review: Grimm Isn't WinOn its surface, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters should work. It takes a well-known Grimm brothers story and dumps in pure cinematic adrenaline, 3D effects, an Oscar nominated actor, and Gemma Arterton in tight leather. It should have been a home run, or at least an enjoyable ride for the length of its run time. Instead, there are more misses than hits. And it is unfortunate.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a continuation of the famed story of two kids who are abandoned in a dark forest and find shelter in a house made of candy. The house happens to be owned by a kid-eating witch and… well, you know the rest.

After opening with this rehash, director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) advances the story “many years later.” Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) now scour the countryside hunting and killing witches. Most of their exploits are told during a rather impressive opening credits piece, that uses animated woodcarvings and “ye olde newspaper clippings” to bring the audience to current. When we finally catch up to the siblings, they are renowned for their witch hunting skills and they sell their services to who needs them.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review

The town of Augsburg has a witch problem, with eleven of the town’s children having been kidnapped. Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stomare) has taken to capturing and burning any woman he perceives to be a witch in hopes of stopping the spree. Just as he is about to burn a young woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala), the Mayor of Augsburg shows up with the titular siblings and hires them to save the children and the town itself.

As the story unfolds, we meet Muriel (Famke Janssen), a powerful witch who has a grand plan to conjure a grand spell during the light of the blood moon, which will give immortality to all witches of the world. Muriel and her accomplices, including a troll named Edward (Derek Mears in a prosthetic suit/costume), are in the final stages of their nefarious plan when Hansel and Gretel show up to save the town.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters has some great ideas and some humorous bits. Bottles of milk are adorned with woodcarvings of the missing children, and Hansel, having been force fed candy to fatten him up by the evil witch in the house of sweets, now has diabetes, or the “sugar sickness” as they call it, and must shoot up with insulin every few hours or he’ll die. (editor’s note: Diabetes itself isn’t humorous, just that Hansel contracted the disease after famously eating all that candy from the original story is funny).

Also, this story takes place in a time bubble. It looks and feels like 18th century Germany, though milk is sold in bottles, Hansel and Gretel use fully automatic weapons–including a primitive stun gun–and most people in town speak with accents other than Germanic–including the two leads, who speak with American accents, even though Gemma Arterton is British. And speaking of voice, Renner plays Hansel like he plays everybody else, so he drops F bombs and other assorted curse words at will, and he delivers his lines as if he is only there to collect the paycheck. Arterton tries to play Gretel looser, but Renner gives her absolutely nothing to work with.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review

I don’t fault Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters for the anachronisms. I just wish they had pushed it further. Why not have Hansel wearing a jetpack underneath his longcoat? Why can’t Gretel wear a suit of mechanized amour, ala Ripley at the end of Aliens? This film just begs to cross into steampunk territory. In fact, it is because of this that the film seems to stall more often than not.

Hansel and Gretel are supposed to be bad asses (and evidenced by the opening credits), but we never see it. They spend most of the movie getting their asses kicked and only barely surviving each witch encounter. Oh, and it is important to note that every witch is a master of hand-to-hand combat, Hansel and Gretel have gadgets for every scenario somehow hidden on their persons, and falls from any height do zero harm to anybody. The only time we get to see the siblings live up to the legend is at the end, when the script needs them to be great.

Where Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters works is in the horror/gore elements. Characters blowing up, or being sliced up by razor wire, or cut down by machine gun fire, or getting violently smashed like over-ripened grapes is fun to watch, as it is over the top, and director Tommy Wirkola would have been better served by pushing this. In fact, about halfway through, the film started to remind me of Sam Raimi’s classic, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn in its over-the-top gore and ludicrousness.

But just as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters seems to embrace this style, the film pulls back and tries to return to some semblance of a serious action film. And therein lies the greater problem. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters never seems to find its identity. Is it black comedy? Horror? An Action film? A period piece? The answer to all of those questions is yes, and that is why the film ultimately fails. If Wirkola had taken to one or two of the genres, it may have been better, but trying to shoehorn all of them into one just doesn’t work.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review

As for the presentation, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the first film by MTV Films to be shot in native 3D. The effects are good, but this is not 3D for depth, or to enhance the story. No, this is IN YOUR FACE 3D. When a witch blows up, prepare for intestines to fly at your head. When Gretel fires a bolt from her automatic crossbow, it will fly right before your eyes. If you are a fan of this type of 3D, you will enjoy this film. If you are easily annoyed by stuff beings launched at your face, you may want to opt for the standard 2D showings.

I don’t hate Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I’m angry at it for failing to be as great as it could have been. The trailers promised something that the film failed to deliver. There are some very entertaining things going on here, but you almost have to go in knowing that the only constant in this film is its inconsistency.

It’s also important to note that this film earns its R rating. There is nudity, gore, cursing and some insanely violent scenes. Just because Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is based off a beloved tale that we tell our children doesn’t mean children should be allowed anywhere near it.

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