Reviewing a movie like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a fool’s errand. Anyone who can read knows that this dark fantasy, starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, is not aiming to win any awards or make picky critics happy. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters wants to be exactly what it sounds like – a bloody, fun, and unapologetically loopy revenge fantasy, starring two very attractive people and a whole lot of nasty-looking weapons. And there’s something to be said for a movie that gives its audience exactly what it promised them in the first place. For most of its short (88-minute) running time, it’s a shamelessly simple, delightfully disposable take on a classic story. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
The movie picks up the tale of two extremely gullible siblings fifteen years later; evidently lacking access to therapy, they’ve dealt with their trauma by becoming formidable bounty hunters, hunting down every witch in sight with a stockpile of crossbows, shotguns, and pistols. Both still bear serious psychological and physical scars from their imprisonment (Hansel’s a diabetic as a result of his forced candy binge, a nice touch), and their mission to destroy all witches is a very personal. When they arrive in the town of Augsburg, where children are going missing, Hansel and Gretel face their toughest challenge yet: a coven of witches led by the powerful Muriel (Famke Janssen).
Director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) pulled off a major casting coup with Arterton and Renner, two stars typically found in higher brow fare than this. The two are game and have an easy chemistry both in their conversations and their witch beat-downs. They do a decent job of bringing to life their certifiably badass characters, no easy task. Their performances are intentionally serious, and while that does work with the film’s tone, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters would have been more entertaining if both the script and the actors had loosened up a bit instead of playing it straight. Arterton seems to be having a better time than Renner, whose scowl never recedes for a second, but neither one of them truly runs with the absurdity of the movie’s central concept.
Wirkola keeps the pace moving quickly, likely to hide the undercooked script, and it’s not a bad choice, because with such tight direction, the film never wears out its welcome. The director also embraces his film’s darkness, maxing out the gore and griminess in his action sequences.Unfortunately, the movie’s serious tone is a poor choice given how close the movie’s concept is to falling over the edge into parody. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is at its heart a revenge fantasy, about two screwed up adults with a bone to pick, and that refreshingly simple concept would have served a goofier film better. Even as blood and guts splatter the screen, it’s all should be tongue-in-cheek, never grim or morbid.
The film is positioned as the start to a series, which gives me both hope and concern. There isn’t much to Wirkola’s concept, enough for one movie, sure, but probably not enough for a series. Then again, with subsequent installments on the way, perhaps the leads and the script can loosen up and tell a fun story, instead of getting weighed down with introductions. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t take place in any particular time period and accuracy was clearly not a concern in this first film, so the sky’s the limit for what they can do with follow-ups. One thing I do know is that Arterton and Renner are a team I’d watch anywhere. B
Image Courtesy: JoBlo.