Film Review – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (MA)

Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Witch hunter fan boys. A horny troll. Popular fairy tale characters with potty mouths. Welcome to the fast, furious and deliriously dopey world of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Taking that childhood Brothers Grimm fairytale favourite about a pair of siblings that escape the clutches of a nasty witch and giving it a good old Hollywood twist for modern teen audiences, this unapologetically silly re-imagining is short on brains but long on laughs.

The familiar part of the story kicks off the film: young brother and sister Hansel and Gretel are escorted out into the woods in the middle of the night by their father and left alone. They stumble across a gingerbread house and are lured inside, only to discover this tasty and sugary sanctuary is inhabited by an evil witch with a thirst for young blood. The pair of pre-teens overpower the witch and burn her to death. And that is just the snappy prologue.


Cut to “several years later” and the duo are all grown up. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are full-blown witch hunters, clad in leather and toting souped up shot guns. They hop from ye olde town to ye olde town, vanquishing any nasties that threaten local ankle biters. Their greatest challenge comes in the form of Muriel (Famke Janssen) who, with the help of her obedient troll Edward (oh yes, the troll has a name) and her collection of cronies, is nabbing children to complete a sacrifice on the night of the Blood Moon (the night the moon turns red. Clever, right?). When Gretel is abducted by the witches for the sacrifice, Hansel recruits witch hunter wannabe Ben (Thomas Mann) and local good witch Mina (Pihla Viitala), who has the hots for Hansel. Speaking of having the hots, Edward takes a fancy to Gretel. Yep, it is that kind of off the wall film.

Between the action, gadgets, makeup, special effects, gore and studio back-lot looking sets (and people criticised The Hobbit for looking fake) there is a healthy collection of amusing gags and not so intentionally amusing moments. With clunkers like “This is not a normal witches lair”, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a straight face. But then again, writer/director Tommy Wirkola doesn’t really want us to. The updates and twists to the story are a hoot – Hansel has diabetes due to his childhood binge and the two often drop the F-bomb. This is all too silly for adults, but far too dark for children, who are the ones that would have had the most recent encounters with the source material. Ultimately, this is aimed squarely at the teenage crowd. And with the brief T and A, the teenage male crowd.

Delayed to cash in on Renner’s predicted fame (this was filmed before The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy were released but still after his Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker), yet the now-star is given nothing to work with other than the occasional one liner and cool pose. Ditto for Arterton, whose career didn’t go anywhere in the 10 months between filming and release. But anyone coming to see this film for revelatory character work are either a few toad’s legs short of a magic spell or are kidding themselves. Instead, the leads spend most of their screen time airborne from being thrown around or slamming into the ground from being thrown around. Or is it their stunt doubles we see most of? It is often hard to believe that Hansel and Gretel have been successful in their witch hunting when they take more hits than they give. Except, of course when it is convenient for the plot, then they get to kick some sorceress ass. Wait, why am I searching for logic all of a sudden?

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is released in Australia on February 7.

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