Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters offers audiences the further adventures of Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), the young brother and sister first introduced by the Brothers Grimm 200 years ago. After a brief retelling of the classic fairy tale (with one or two important tweaks) in which the young children fight off and kill a powerful witch living in a candy house in the woods, we catch up years later with our hero and heroine after they have become the world’s most famous witch hunters.
The plot by Tommy Wirkola (who also directs) and Dante Harper isn’t all that imaginative as Hansel and Gretel are pitted against a grand witch (Famke Janssen) with plans to use the rare event of a Blood Moon to make her coven invincible. What makes the film work, often in spite of itself, is its sense of humor and constant awareness of what it is. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is dumb fun embracing the ridiculous with witches more than a little reminiscent of Deadites and a pair of likable heroes that get knocked around repeatedly over the course of the film. It’s a film about life and death that never takes either all that seriously.
Wirkola’s movie offers several bloody deaths and eviscerations, all in 3D, which include beheadings, stabbings, squashings, drawn-and-quartering, and a hell of a lot of gun play for a film set in the early 19th Century. When the film focuses on action and its attractive co-stars it works (at least temporarily well enough to cover up its rather obvious blemishes). Have you ever wanted to see what a chain gun would do on dozens of witches all gathered together in one spot? If the answer is yes, Hansel & Gretel is the film for you.
The script, however, does get into trouble with hamfisted attempts at foreshadowing important events and offering clues to mysteries far too easy to figure out. The film is also burdened by the use of multiple subplots and quite a few superfluous characters. Jannsen is fine as the film’s big bad, but the script doesn’t give her much to do other than show up for either 1) your basic villain taunts or 2) the big fight sequences. Thomas Mann is mostly wasted as a naive young super-fan of the witch hunters whose arc is far too easy to figure out. Mina (Pihla Viitala) a young townswoman mistaken for a witch, and Hansel’s obvious love interest, has no real purpose other than to give the horror film its obligatory brief nude scene.
The only two supporting performances that actually bring something to the story are Peter Stormare, who chews up an amazing amount of scenery as the town sheriff none to pleased to find his role usurped by a pair of bounty hunters, and Robin Atkin Downes as the voice of the violent but kind troll Edward. Stormare is an awful lot of fun, although his character eventually overstays his welcome. And Edward’s mere existence allows for the film’s most humorous line.
To beat the witch and save twelve children snatched from the local town for a sacrifice, the pair of witch hunters will have to take on an army of witches and face their own past and the reasons they were forced to grow up without their parents. This results in a huge final battle as our heroes take on the entire coven of withces with guns, swords, barbed-wire, grenades, and a chain gun, all blessed by a good witch. Not sure what the hell a good witch is doing in this movie? That’s okay, even though the plot requires her presence, the filmmakers don’t seem to be sure either.
Evil Dead II is an obvious influence of the film, and while Hansel and Gretel certainly isn’t as smart as Sam Raimi‘s cinematic gem Wirkola’s flick is far better than the likes of Van Helsing (which is all that I was expecting). It isn’t the type of film that will transcend its genre. However, fans of this type of movie should have some good, dumb, fun. It’s certainly not a film you need to see in 3D (which is adequate but not spectacular), or even in a theater. It’s probably best served as a late-night rental.