Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) Review
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Original release: January 25th 2013
Written and directed by- Tommy Wirkola
Starring- Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare
Available now on Blu-Ray from- Paramount Home Entertainment
Every once in a while a horror film will come out of nowhere and blow some of the dust and cobwebs out of the genre we love so much. The mainstream horror that we are faced with at the moment can sometimes feel like an endless stream of found footage and possession films that seems like it will go on forever, but Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters proves that something exciting can be done with a familiar formula.
At first glance Hansel and Gretel looks like just another “dark fantasy” retelling of an old fairy tale, aimed at luring in the tweens queuing up to see Red Riding Hood or Snow White and the Huntsman. Its cast of B tier pretty faced actors seeming to pose in every poster like a pair of Van Helsing rejects does little to fight off this image. Scratch the surface however and you’ll find a film that is not only packed with enough gore and swearing to make those tweens run home screaming, but is hugely entertaining.
Clearly the pet project of writer/ director Tommy Wirkola, Hansel and Gretel retells the story of the titular siblings (Renner and Arterton) that are left in the woods as children by their father. After introducing the famous house of candy and its witch owner however the story quickly takes off into new territory, with Hansel and Gretel all grown up and travelling Europe brutally murdering witches for money. It’s a novel premise that illustrates the quirky charm that can be found throughout the entire movie.
To go much further into the plot of Hansel and Gretel would be a disservice as there really isn’t much on show. There’s a big bad witch that needs to be dealt with, played by the still radiant Famke Janssen, and some “revelations” so easy to see coming that it’s almost a relief when the film catches up. What little plot there is really isn’t important though, what’s important are the buckets of blood and general feeling of stupid swashbuckling fun that comes with watching this movie.
Every time Hansel and Gretel begins to look like it’s taking itself seriously a character will quickly drop the F bomb before blowing some poor witches head off. It’s simple, stupid fun and it works well. When not comprised of swearing the film’s dialogue is actually pretty engaging and is strongly reminiscent of the kind of black humour found in Wirkola’s previous film the classic Dead Snow. Although I didn’t actually care about what was going on in the movie I got a kind of cheesy kick out of watching it play out, there’s also one element of Hansel’s character that had me in a fit of laughter. It’s a small detail, but it’s a slice of dark comedy gold that I really wasn’t expecting.
The script however does highlight one of the biggest problems with Hansel and Gretel. Although Arterton gives a spirited performance, the other leads really look like their phoning it in. While this is to be expected from the consistently wooden Renner it was disappointing to see Janssen and Stormare stick to default ‘villain’ performances, when they’ve shown in their past work to be better than that. Between the cheap looking set design ( they must have blown most of the budget on the excellent troll makeup) and the feeling that most of the cast was thinking about their pay check during filming, the whole movie feels like Wirkola trying his best to make the film he envisioned whilst keeping the studio and his actors happy.
Hansel and Gretel is perhaps best summed up as a mindless but blood soaked popcorn flick, something to throw on to have a few laughs to and not think too hard about. It won’t leave any lasting impressions but it’ll keep you smiling all the way through. The action scenes are solid throughout and although some of the special effects are hit and miss, it’s clear that someone with passion made this film not just a director trying to pump out another ‘me too’ horror film. The whole mix of sincere filmmaking and utterly ludicrous on screen antics (spoilers: there’s a minigun in this movie) makes the while spectacle hilarious in a kind of endearing and easy to forgive way.
The fact that this film was marketed to look exactly like movies such as Snow White and the Huntsman does it a disservice as Hansel and Gretel has more in common with Blade than anything Kristen Stewart has ever appeared in. Despite this fact however the film did exceptionally well, particularly in Russia and Germany, and the ball is rolling on the sequel already. Maybe now the eclectic mix of fairy tales, explicit violence and partial nudity has proved itself successful, Wirkola will be able to make a sequel that is better produced whilst keeping the pure fun of this film intact.
The biggest compliment I can give Hansel and Gretel is that its damn good fun. It’s not going to set box offices on fire, it’s not going to win any awards and it’s certainly not a brilliant horror film. But if you’re looking for a bloody good time you can do a lot worse.
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