Review: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

The Brothers Grimm’s classic tale gets reinvented. With more leather!

 

Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, and Famke Janssen

MPAA Rating: R

 

hansel_and_Gretel_witch_hunters1.608x952The desire to take famous literary, fairy tale, or even real-life icons and repurpose them into more modern, sexy, or action-packed pieces of pop fiction has been a trend for the past decade or two. It has led to several films of varying degrees of quality, including VAN HELSING, RED RIDING HOOD, and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. The latest example reintroduces us to Hansel and Gretel, the two children who defeated the evil witch that intended to fatten them up and eat them. We witness their latest adventure in the film, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS follows the two children as adult witch hunters who travel across the land saving children for money. Their latest job comes from the mayor of a small village in crisis. Eleven children have gone missing, and the townspeople are desperate for the culprits to be caught. Hansel & Gretel must use their wits, their gadgets, and their impressive arsenal to take down the powerful witches behind it all.

A film of this sort lives or dies largely on it’s tone and atmosphere. If it takes itself too seriously, there’s a danger of the inherent silliness feeling out-of-place or moronic. Go too far in the other direction, and you risk the audience losing any interest in the plot or characters. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS manages to strike a perfect balance. It’s campy and ridiculous in all the areas it needs to be, but it is sincere enough to keep you invested as well. Every laugh is intentional and well-earned; every cheer is well-deserved due to lots of impressive violence and gore. This is a film with it’s tongue firmly planted in it’s cheek, and it makes no apologies for that.

Much of the film’s success is due to some surprisingly strong performances from the cast. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the titular Hansel and Gretel, and they play them exceptionally well. Each one is distinct and different; Gretel is more thoughtful and investigative, whereas Hansel is more brutish and single-minded. There is a good cop / bad cop dynamic to their interplay, and it’s a lot of fun to witness. Famke Janssen plays Muriel, the evil Grand Black Witch and the mastermind behind the devious plot at the core of the film. She seems to relish every dark word and every nasty deed. She’s always just on the edge of chewing scenery, but never goes overboard with it. It really comes across that Janssen is having a blast playing this role. Supporting characters, such as Peter Stormare as the Sheriff, Pihla Viitala as a wrongly accused witch, and Thomas Mann as a wannabe witch hunter, all shine in their respective roles as well. Even a troll named Edward, played by Derek Mears, manages to impress.

The script from Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper is generally well-written. It isn’t the most original story, and it utilizes well-worn archetypes. At the same time, though, the story never condescends or talks down to the audience. It never treats you like an idiot. There’s a small plot device around an illness plaguing Hansel that never feels like it is properly paid off, but that feels like the only sin the script commits. Wirkola also directed the film, and he keeps things lively. There’s a kinectic energy to the film that rarely stops. Each scene is staged and constructed to get the maximum value out of every action beat and every ounce of blood shed in the name of witch hunting. The special effects for these scenes is a mixture of practical make-up and CGI. The CGI is noticeable, but not too egregious. The make-up and practical effects are convincingly over-the-top. The constumes, sets, sound, music, and editing all contribute to bringing this delightfully deranged tale to life.

Could you complain about this film using CGI? Maybe. Could you complain about the anachronisms like using weapons, such as a gatling gun, and language inappropriate to the time period? Sure. Could you complain about some of the plot, like Hansel’s illness, not quite holding up like the rest of it? Definitely. However, do any of those complaints matter when you are having so much fun watching the film? Absolutely not! HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is a hoot. It won’t be one of the best films of the year, but it will certainly go down as some of the most fun you’ll have in a theater this year. By the end of the film, I was ready for another adventure with this duo. Is there any higher praise than that?

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is now playing in theaters nationwide. It comes highly recommended by this critic.

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