Theatrical Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Young Hansel and Gretel have been seemingly abandoned by their parents in the forest. The two children are cold and starving. They walk together through the forest and come upon a house made entirely of candy. They think they’ve found salvation, but once entering the house, they’re horrified to find that it belongs to an old witch who certainly has her own fiendish plans for the siblings. As the witch is enacting her plan, Hansel and Gretel find an opportunity to kill the witch and escape the house, never to see their parents again.

From there, both then dedicate their lives to stamping out the threats posed by witches. Years later, the duo have made quite the name for themselves and have now come to a small village that’s facing a series of child disappearances, believed to be at the hand of some sort of witch threat.

That’s the premise to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and while one could look at this as sort of jumping on the same bandwagon started by movies like Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Huntsman that’s not the case at all. Those movies (neither of which I’ve seen, so don’t take this for fact) both seemed to me to be taking the classic fairy tales and wanting to update, darken them up and make them far more serious for the Young Adult audience, and more specifically the Twilight fans. That’s not the case with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters at all, and the movie goes in a direction that’s more reminiscent of what you might get if you crossed the movie Van Helsing with the films of John Carpenter. Hansel & Gretel doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and that’s very much to it’s credit. What you have is a pulpy, comic-book treatment here that’s having a lot of fun with what it’s doing.

Credit for this goes to writer and director Tommy Wirkola, who prior to Hansel & Gretel directed Dead Snow a rollicking film that told the story of a vacationing group of medical students being hunted down by a large group of Nazi zombies (it’s a fun little film and I believe still available on Netflix Instant Play). That same sensibility is right here on hand for Hansel & Gretel which doesn’t shy away from bloody violence, but has it tempered by firmly having it’s tongue in cheek. It’s all handled at a brisk pace with a run time of under 90 minutes. It’s not the highest of budgeted films around, but it still has a great look and some pretty darn good action sequences that are certainly made more effective viewing it in 3D (which I did).

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the title characters, and they do have great chemistry together. Both have their own individual stories as well as coming together for the task at hand and discovering what really happened when they were children. Both look like they’re having a lot of fun with this, and it’s really evident with Arterton, who not only looks terrific, but just genuinely looks like she’s loving being a bad-ass action star. Famke Janssen plays Muriel, the villainous witch of the film, and again, she looks fantastic and certainly appears to enjoy chewing the scenery here. Further support is provided by Pihla Viitala as Mina, a good witch, Derek Mears and Robin Atkin Downes playing Edward, a troll who is smitten with Gretel (Mears is the physical actor and Downes provides the voice), Thomas Mann as Ben, a young fan of the witch-hunting duo, and Peter Stormare, who plays the sheriff of the village and resents Hansel and Gretel even being there. All are doing good work here, though keep in mind, they all certainly know what kind of film they’re making as well. Awards won’t be won for this work, but it’s all in service to the vision of the film.

I had a ball with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Wirkola, Renner and Arterton come back to this later, though I’m not exactly holding my breath. If you enjoyed films like Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing from a few years ago or more recently, last year’s Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter, well, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is right in the same vein. Definitely see it if you like you action/fantasy/horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously.