Having made his biggest mark internationally with 2009’s riotous Nazi zombie horror comedy Dead Snow, writer/director Tommy Wirkola has made his US bow with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a thoroughly adult retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Pleasingly Hollywood hasn’t blunted Wirkola’s edge as the film delivers a smattering of nicely nasty moments, such as a forced suicide-by-shotgun, but even for a film that runs for less than 90 minutes (including a fairly lengthy credits sequence), the story feels thin. As a result, when the blood’s not flowing, the film doesn’t either.
With the fairy tale condensed into a pre-credits sequence, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters picks up where the fairy tale left off and revisits the titular characters (a bland Jeremy Renner and a sassy, potty-mouthed Gemma Arterton) in adulthood as they make their way in the world of witch bounty hunting. They end up in a town where eleven children have recently gone missing, the work of dastardly witch Muriel (Famke Janssen); a witch who, in turn, knows more about Hansel and Gretel’s childhood than they first realise.
To say Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a bad film is to over-simplify – instead it’s a film that just never settles on what it wants to be, therefore finding itself in a uneasy truce between a B-movie horror romp and wanting to be more serious fare. Therefore you end up with sequences where having established a troll named Edward (so far, so acceptably ridiculous), it then requires you to emotionally involve yourself in Gretel’s quest to save Edward later on, when you’d really rather get back to the witch slaying antics that the gore-drenched climax finally delivers. It’s a film that just doesn’t revel in its promising subject matter enough, only doing so on certain occasions when either the inventive bloodletting (a mid-air limb amputation is delightful) or the excellent witch design, such as a conjoined twin witch, impresses.
Were the other elements of the film to succeed, then the film’s messy tone wouldn’t be as much of an issue but it’s unfortunate that no one element steps up to the plate. Arterton is the stand-out of the performers and Peter Stormare puts in a customary scenery-chewing turn, yet even Janssen fails to lift above one note to make a memorable villain when it was surely harder to be bland. As for the 3D, it excels during the brilliant animated opening credits, but the rest of the film is shot too hastily for any of the 3D to make an impact meaning the action sequences become somewhat of a nightmare to focus on. And while the script delivers some moments of humour, it often falls flat and exacerbates the tonal issues of the film; for instance, the fact that Hansel effectively has diabetes as a result of the witch’s candy house could have been a neat touch in a film more assured, and instead comes across as a poor attempt at quirkiness.
The film’s climax, and a little scene a short way into its credits, rather ambitiously set up the possibility of a sequel and a Hansel & Gretel franchise. While there’s no denying the potential is there, there’s little in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to ensure the audience will be willing to follow the breadcrumbs again.
Having made his biggest mark internationally with 2009’s riotous Nazi zombie horror comedy Dead Snow...