Two young children, a brother and sister, are left in the woods by their father. They are frightened and don’t understand why their parents would abandon them. They begin walking through the forest and discover a cabin made entirely of candy. Both children sample the delicious building supplies and think nothing of entering when the cabin doors open by itself. Once inside they are attacked and captured by an evil witch who plans on throwing them in an oven and eating them. The resourceful pair turns the tables on the old hag and throws her into the fire. During the battle, they discover both brother and sister are immune to the witch’s spells and curses. Left all alone in the world, the pair uses their gift to hunt down evil witches, and as they become adults they are making a good living as bounty hunters hired by villages to rid them of the wicked spell casters. They are Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton): Witch Hunters. When the pair enters the town of Augsburg, they arrive as Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stomare) is announcing a woman known as Mina (Pihla Viitala) is responsible for the recent disappearances of 11 children. The sheriff and the crowd want her burned but Hansel and Gretel put an end to the talk as they examine her and announce she isn’t a witch. Sheriff Berringer considers the witch-hunting siblings to be no better than their prey and doesn’t mind letting them know his opinion. Mayor of Augsburg, Mr. Engleman (Rainer Bock) has hired the pair to find the witch responsible for the missing children and recover the youngsters if possible. The witch behind the disappearances is Muriel (Famke Janssen) and she has a plan to make all witches invulnerable to fire, which is the best way to kill their kind, and it involves the missing children and a mysterious final ingredient that could prove deadly to the witch-hunting siblings.
Turning the fairy tale of a brother and sister who escape an evil witch into an action/adventure/fantasy film sounds, on the surface, like an intriguing idea; however, the way it is handled in “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is silly, dull and predictable. The film has a very polished and fully realized look to it and there was obviously a great deal of work put into the makeup, special effects and stunts. What didn’t get as much attention was the story and the script which falls back on the easiest crutches of any action picture: graphic violence and foul language. Witches are dispatched in a number of bloody and gory ways, including piano wire strung between trees to cut them into pieces as they fly along on their brooms. “F-bombs” are dropped almost as frequently as they would in a Quentin Tarantino production. The combination makes for a very jarring and abrasive film that is about as subtle as an axe to the forehead.
The film does have a few redeeming qualities. For instance, the witch’s broom-flying sequences are very believable and quite exciting. Each witch has a distinct look that makes them easier to tell apart from each other. At a gathering of several dozen witches, the group was a diverse mix of unique styles and types that made for a very interesting visual. The story, while very predictable, has a bit of a twist that actually surprised me a little. There should have been more thought to making the story more unique. Famke Janssen seems to really enjoy her evil role as Muriel. She gives the part a great deal of energy and style despite being a very average villain.
The screenwriters have made some very unusual choices in regards to the script. First, they have given Hansel diabetes, referred to as the sugar sickness, because of the amount of candy he was forced to eat by the witch as a child. He wears a timepiece that tells him when he must inject himself with a syringe so he doesn’t become weak and pass out. The film appears to be set in the late 1800’s (although there are aspects of the movie that could be considered from the Middle Ages). Insulin, which is what he must be injecting, wasn’t available until the early 1920’s. Also, when and how much insulin is injected is based on blood sugar levels and what food is consumed, not a set amount of time. Perhaps this bothers me because I am a diabetic but it stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Hansel and Gretel also have automatic weapons. Everything from a crossbow to a shotgun fires numerous rounds without reloading. While the first automatic weapon was invented in the 1880’s, they didn’t become commonly used until World War I. And I doubt there has ever been a crossbow that could shoot a dozen or more arrows without reloading or pulling back the bow string. I understand that not only witches but the weapons are fantasy as well, but this was unnecessary gadgetry.
“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is rated R for fantasy horror violence/gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language. As stated earlier, there are a number of witches who are dispatched in various bloody and gory ways. Several have their heads shot off. Others are stabbed, beheaded, burned and dismembered by piano wire. Hansel and Gretel spend much of the movie being beaten and thrown around by witches. We watch a man being hanged and a large troll stepping on people’s heads. We briefly see a woman’s bare backside and a bare breast. There’s also a kind of creepy scene where a teenager is cleaning Gretel while she’s unconscious and he’s paying particular attention to her cleavage. Foul language is common throughout the film.
I was looking forward to “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” as perhaps a twisted take on a classic Grimm’s fairy tale. Instead I watched a predictable action movie with witches instead of terrorists or mobsters. This could have been the first of at least a trilogy about the siblings efforts to rid the world of evil sorceresses or other monsters like werewolves and vampires; but this will likely be a one-off that will wind up in the DVD bargain bin by the end of spring. Oh, what might have been.
“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” gets an unenthusiastic three guitars out of five.
Three new films are hoping you decide to go see them this week. Which one I see is up to you. Vote for the next film I review.
Bullet to the Head—The deaths of their partners bring a cop and a hit man together against a common enemy. Starring Sylvester Stallone.
Stand Up Guys—After serving 28 years in prison for accidentally killing the son of a crime boss, a newly paroled gangster reunites with his former partners in crime for a night on the town. Starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.
Warm Bodies—After a zombie epidemic, R (a highly unusual zombie) encounters Julie (a human survivor), rescues her from a zombie attack and seems to be in love with her. Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry and John Malkovich.
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