Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) – Directed by Tommy Wirkola – Starring Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears, and Zöe Bell.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is usually the kind of film that makes it’s way into my movie library. I own Van Helsing, after all, and I don’t even like Van Helsing, but it will be a bountiful day in my wallet before I plunk down some cash for this nonsense.
To be fair, I watched this movie back when it was in the theaters and hated it to the point that I couldn’t even be bothered to write a review of it because I generally like the actors involved, and I knew this had to be the worst film of the year. But then along came Movie 43 and World War Z to prove me wrong, and when Netflix started streaming HANSEL & GRETEL, I thought I’d give it another try.
I definitely liked HANSEL & GRETEL better than I did the first time, but all that means is I’d put it at the other end of the Worst Films of the Year List. It’s poorly written and poorly acted. It’s not smart. It’s boring, dull, childish, and obvious. And perhaps most damning – it’s near zero amounts of fun. There’s something particularly noxious about the way it treats issues like race, child abuse, and rape; even forgiving the film for having its roots in a fairy tale, it’s uncomfortable listening to Hansel (Jeremy Renner) spout “kill ’em all” declarations that are only temporarily sated by getting laid by the white witch, Mina (Pihla Viitala, and later finding out his deceased mom was a white witch, too.
Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any other white witches around to clutter up his hatred.
HANSEL & GRETEL is a movie where the protagonists are culled from the old monster movie hordes – there’s little nuance or sophistication to their approach. It’s all, “See a Monster, Kill a Monster, Look for the Next Monster.”
Hansel and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are witch hunters because a witch killed their parents, turned Hansel diabetic, and would have given Gretel an eating disorder of her own, except of all the things that could have been cut from this story, that was it. So now they’re witch hunters for hire because you can’t get overstuffed with candy by a witch who wants to sacrifice you and grow up to be a dentist. They’ve been hired by a village mayor to take care of the witch problem, but as the film opens, we see them stopping the village’s sheriff (Peter Stormare) from executing an alleged witch, letting us know that despite Hansel’s stated desire to kill all the witches, they do their homework before assassinating someone for their lifestyle choice.
Of course, this alleged witch is Mina, who actually is a witch. So … oops? She’s a white witch, though, so she doesn’t show the same signs of witchiness that black witches do: she doesn’t have a face that looks like a dried out salt flat, she doesn’t have rotted teeth, she doesn’t want to kidnap or sacrifice children, and she’s not ugly.
Yes, like a good ol’ comic book from the 1940s (or ’50s, or ’60s or … you get it), the good guys are pretty and the bad guys are ugly.
Hansel and Gretel, then, are witch hunters who are better at shooting things then they are at understanding them, which makes them heroes for the Fox News Congregation. If one witch does you harm, it’s not enough to get revenge on that witch, you have to get revenge on all the witches. (Which at least makes them active, I suppose. Heroes for the CNN Congregation would just stand around, speculating wildly while they waited for someone else to do something.)
WITCH HUNTERS wants to be a good ol’ fashioned throwback film where you can easily tell the good guys from the bad guys at a glance, and where the bad guys are so evil you can just execute them on site without giving it a second thought. The filmmakers toss in the wrinkle of the white witches, but it’s not much of a swerve. Mina has sex with Hansel and then gets murdered and we’re not treated to the revelation of more white witches. We know of two and they both get killed by other witches, thus saving Hansel the difficulty in deciding if he should continue to have sex with a witch or kill her. Neither Hansel nor Gretel are all that changed at the the end of the film – they still hunt witches, except now they’ve got a fanboy and troll as a sidekick.
It’s all rather terrible, though at least the troll seems conflicted about his actions during the film.
Not wanting to be completely without merit, the movie is paced rather well. There’s not much time to sit around and think, but there’s not much here to enjoy, either. I’ve got lots of friends who love this movie, but I don’t see it. Amateurish, infantile, and lacking fun, if they got together to watch HANSEL & GRETEL, I’d either stay home and do something that was more fun – like vacuuming, or doing the laundry – or slip Bounty Killer into the Blu-ray player to show them how fun a B-movie like this can actually be.