Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters banner

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann, Rainer Bock and Peter Stormare

Written by D.W. Harper and Tommy Wirkola

Directed by Tommy Wirkola

New in theaters this week is the first big budget Hollywood production from the Norwegian director of the horror comedy Dead Snow, Tommy Wirkola: the horror/fairy tale reinvention Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star as the legendary siblings. In this version of the story the two have become full blown witch hunters after disposing of the witch in the candy house of the original fairy tale.  But can Hansel and Gretel match the absurdly fun Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, from last year, on the enjoyment scale?

After getting a taste for blood as children, Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) have devoted their lives on their hell bent retribution against all witches. Now, unbeknownst to them, Hansel and Gretel have become the hunted, and must face a nemesis far greater than the average witch. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past. Along the way the pair must deal with an over bearing Sherriff (Stormare), a pair of determined admirers in Ben (Mann) and Mina (Viitala), and a troll (Mears), named Edward, in league with the evil witch Muriel (Janssen).

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not a good movie, it’s ludicrous and ridiculous in concept and sadly does not know exactly what to do with it. The film languishes in the middle, not pulling back enough to be taken seriously and not going far enough over-the-top to be considered a full out tongue-in-cheek romp. Unlike last year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Hansel and Gretel lacks charm and the loveable goofiness of the presidential supernatural flick. The script and direction play a major part here, as director Wirkola seems to be afraid to let his cast go completely over the top. You can almost see the reigns being pulled back on the actors steering them directly towards straight line readings on dialogue so perverse in parts it’s practically screaming for an ironic/comedic delivery. In fact, Stormare seems to be the only one getting exactly what he is supposed to be doing here, devilishly smiling and sneering throughout and screaming almost 50% of his dialogue until his admittedly fun demise.

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But that brings us to the biggest issue on display here, the total miscasting of Jeremy Renner. Arterton’s turn as Gretel is actually very satisfying, especially considering the limitations of the script she was presented with. It’s Renner as Hansel that really lets the film down.  Renner seems to lack the ability to just completely cut loose and go comedic, his punch line delivery is uninspired and does not work, and as a result spends the film mainly in a gloomy/moody haze that he hops out of for action sequences then drops right back into. Adding to this is the ‘phoned in’ performance of Famke Janssen as our main villain. Janssen seems disinterested, as if he were under the influence of marijuana, throughout the film and in the end lacks any real gravitas as a foil for Hansel and Gretel.

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The special effects work is one of the highlights here as there are many aspects that impress. The legendary ‘house of candy’ is a visual treat when we first see it, and looks grimy and unkempt when we see it later on.  Hansel and Gretel’s arsenal is quite impressive, including Hansel’s modified shotgun and Gretel’s souped up crossbow, and the weapons cache used in the final showdown is impressive as is the damage it delivers. But the real highlight here is the work done with Edward. Edward looks impressive and immense, but also becomes endearing and a crowd favorite.

Ultimately Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a shiny looking wrapper with an empty center. It lacks the substance at the heart of the film to truly engage for more than moments at a time. With content and aspects of production that do work, the film seems like a rudderless ship that constantly drifts back towards the areas that don’t work. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a non-recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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