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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

January 26, 2013
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Nobody should go into a movie re-imagining one of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm as hyperviolent modern action expecting highbrow entertainment. That said, nobody should go into Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, period. The script, by director Tommy Wirkola and co-writer Dante Harper, is mostly stupid with a few side trips into offensive, and the visuals are a giant sloppy mess. What could have been a fun, corny premise is an all-around disappointment.

The setup should be familiar: farmer abandons his kids in the forest — this time not out of abject poverty highlighting the need for a strong welfare state, but in an attempt to protect them from some unspecified threat — where they find a house made of candy. The house is that of a witch who deals with trespassing via slavery and cannibalism. Kids fight back and shove witch into her own oven. The twist: kids now have a taste and talent for killing witches, which they adopt as their vocation.

Many years later, Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) are famous, and rightly so. They’re lauded as vigilantes stamping out witches, who seem to be a separate, all-female race that steal human children for food and ritual murder. Or maybe they’re not all-female; just one of the many points the script is confused about. Anyway, the inherent misogyny in a premise that sets up as many scenes as possible of repeatedly punching women in the face has been raised by other reviewers. And where the sole dispositive evidence of witchcraft is having bad skin or teeth. For my part, I’d like to point out how close this seems to the classic blood libel, and after you see that it’s hard not to mentally substitute “Jew” for “witch” in the movie’s dialogue.

The setting is nominally medieval, but with a whole lot of modern incongruities. The presence of guns, grenades, and tasers — which double as defibrillators — feels mostly like an admission on the part of the filmmakers that they don’t have the imagination necessary to make an action film without modern firepower. But then there are some other inclusions — newspapers, both clipped and spinning; missing children’s pictures on the sides of milk bottles; a mysterious after-effect of Hansel’s time being fattened up on candy requiring regular hypodermic injections, which looks a lot like diabetes — that make it seem like someone thought this was going to be a comedy.

And what passes for a story is slapped together out of clichés. Hansel and Gretel interrupt an unscrupulous sheriff (Peter Stormare) before he can burn a wrongly-accused woman (Pihla Viitala) who, rest assured, is stripped naked as soon as the writer can find an excuse. They set out to find the real witch causing all the local trouble (Famke Janssen) with the inept assistance of a pervy local fanboy (Thomas Mann). And then there’s the sporadic R-rated language who feels awkwardly shoved in by a hack writer who thinks it punches things up.

Maybe this half-baked story could have been salvaged if the movie were at least fun to watch — you know, apart from the running gag about punching as many ugly chicks as possible in the face — but the action is as confused as the plot. Fights are chaotic and shot way too close to even keep anything in frame. The CGI looks cheap — especially the blood, of which there’s a lot — and the stereography is flat-out boring.

Hansel & Gretel is a terrible execution of a mediocre concept, and it doesn’t even have the decency to be bad in a way you can laugh at. Don’t stop with witches; burn this movie.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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