Writer & Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann
Length: 88 min.
The announcement that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was going into production sparked a fairly normal cycle of bad TV movie development. One of the products of this was Witchslayer Gretl (Mario Azzopardo 2012), made by the American cable channel SyFy and starring Shannen Doherty, clearly on a career upswing. This D-movie knockoff proved boring, poorly-acted and driven by paper thin characters, an utterly unsurprising storyline and far, far too little Shannen Doherty playing a bitchy witch.
Though one would assume that the $50 million sunk into Hansel & Gretel would allow it to avoid the tackiness of its brood of TV movie knockoffs – yes, there is more than one – it turns out that it falls into all of the same traps.
Basically, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) decided to make a career of their superhumanly badass escape from the witch in the gingerbread house as children. Hired by the mayor of Augsburg, the orphans investigate repeated disappearances of children, which are revealed to be the work of a grand witch (Famke Janssen), whose name – Muriel – appears on IMDb but not in the film itself.
Muriel wants to concoct a potion that would make witches immune to fire, a process which can occur only during the brief, irregular appearance of a blood moon. The witches seem particularly desperate to be flame retardant because it will stop them being burned at the stake. It will not, however, give them immunity to Hansel and Gretel’s anachronistic weapons, so it’s basically fruitless anyway.
The film feels – and looks – like someone gave Uwe Boll far too much money for one of his odious video game adaptations. Billed on Wikipedia as an “action-horror dark fantasy film with black comedy elements” (ugh), Hansel & Gretel is plenty gory, but pads out the run-of-the-mill action with dull back story, the go-nowhere over-acting of the Augsberg sheriff (Peter Stormare), and a fleeting romance between Hansel and Mina (Pihla Viitala), which amounts to one scene of flirting and another of a strongly implied banging in a hot spring.
Hansel & Gretel fails chiefly because it doesn’t create a need for its own existence. Writer-director Tommy Wirkola could have taken a huge leaf from the book of Guillermo del Toro and invested in some interesting monster design, but instead his witches land somewhere between a goth and an Uruk-hai. By the time the film reaches its rushed climax, it unveils a rogues’ gallery of weird and bizarre witch creatures at the witches’ blood moon get-together/Evanescence-Slipknot double-bill. But rather than revel in the camp of its premise, it goes for the oh-so-fashionable “gritty” angle and is all the more boring for it.
Toss in the weird, uncomfortable subtexts of good witches being termed “white witches,” the evil ones practising the “black arts,” and the idea of two bloodthirsty orphans destroying the livelihoods of a group of entrepreneuses (in this case their enterprise is kidnapping and ritual sacrifice, but you know, a grand don’t come for free), and Hansel & Gretel is a toxic potion of stilted dialogue and ugly, unimaginative action.