…because a president hunting vampires is so last year.
It must be said that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has no definitive audience. The movie is a smorgasbord of genre bending; it’s a mix of action, horror, fantasy and comedy. Not really the best combination of making a box office hit. We saw what happened last year with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Timur Bekmambetov has a flair for telling his stories with impressive visuals, but most people could care less about Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires, because those who weren’t familiar with the book just couldn’t comprehend going to a theater and saying they were there to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Hopefully, in the case of this revamped Brothers Grimm tale, those making the it their movie pick of the week likely won’t remember The Brothers Grimm with Heath Ledger and Matt Damon, or Van Helsing – Universal’s poor tribute to its classic horror monster movies.
So the question that’s raised is who in the blue hell thought there’d be an audience that would be willing to see grown-up siblings Hansel and Gretel hunt witches. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, that’s who. In what sounds like a wild pitch – the idea that funnyman Will Ferrell and collaborator Adam McKay (Anchorman) would shepherd this project – turns out to be quite revealing. Apparently, Ron Burgundy, when he’s in a glass case of emotions, thumbs through the Brothers Grimm fables and gets the wild notion that these almost tater tots would make fun protagonists if their misery was turned into a tongue-in-cheek splatterfest. It makes sense. They would fit right in during the area news stations battle royale.
I’m not saying it was a good idea, but if one can ignore the poor editing in terms of story in the film’s second half – the second and third act sort of blend into each other – then you might find yourself enjoying a bare story that is amusing to an extent and contains enough blood-soaked action to satisfy gorehounds. Yes, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is ridiculous. Yet at least director Tommy Wirkola (2009’s Dead Snow) isn’t taking things too seriously, unlike the narrative found in AL:VH. From the get-go the movie knows it is ridiculous.
The movie opens up with a slight variation of the famous German fable. Breadcrumbs don’t make an appearance but we do get the confectionery house and the cannibalistic witch that captures young Hansel and his sister Gretel. Holding them captive and fattening them up Baby-Got-Back style (read: thick and juicy), the witch underestimates her prisoners and ends up roasting in the oven. That’s where the fable ends. The movie picks up after that conclusion to show us that the kids have grown up to be famous witch killers. So we have a one-joke premise that is not at all serious. That doesn’t give it a free pass from criticism by any means, but at least it’s not trying to hide how goofy it really is. The audience that pays to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is in on the joke from the word go. It’s a credit to Wirkola for taking a one-joke premise and doing his best to not make this hunting tale a retread of last year’s presidential hunting exploits.
If anything the filmmakers didn’t go far enough with aping the classic fable. Essentially, Jeremy Renner as Hansel is John McClane circa 1995. He’s been through the ringer and it’s that much harder for him to recoup his strength after battling some witches. He still retains a devil may care attitude, but lacks witty one-liners (he couldn’t even throw in one “boomstick” reference – come on!). It seems that sister Gretel gets the lioness share of last words. For instance, when Gretel is about to kill one of the hags she remarks, “I hate to break it to you, but you won’t be having an open casket.” Far from a classic burn. Actually, I’d be more impressed if she was saying c*cksucker every other line a la Deadwood.
Beyond the premise, where the film delivers is in its outliers. This includes the fantastic opening credit sequence that is carried by an energetic music score reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s scores for the Sherlock Holmes movies. (Zimmer worked on Hansel & Gretel as a music supervisor.) In terms of acting, protags Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton do their best to play up to the film’s tone. A pair of wise-ass siblings, I’d give the edge to Arterton as the one that appears having the most fun. Throw in some F-bombs, a troll named Edward (now here’s a Team Edward I can get behind), and a lot blood-spewing fatalities that will make you go “yeesh” and you got yourself a party.
On the downside, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has kinetic action but far too quick edits and not enough establishing shots to give some semblance of the hyper-cut carnage. It’s as if Wirkola was doing his damnedest to throw in as much action as possible in such a short time (the movie runs a shade under 90 minutes).
Hansel & Gretel is by definition a “junk food movie.” It’s a palate cleanser in the weeks leading up to the Oscars. Those who haven’t already walked out in disgust may not get cavities. For the rest that embrace the silliness of it all, enjoy the blood splattered popcorn.
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writer: Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper; inspired by the Brothers Grimm’ “Hansel & Gretel”
Notable Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Storemare, Thomas Mann, Pihla Viltala