The mission for Hollywood executives to fill the gaps left by Harry Potter and Twilight in the burgeoning tween market continues with the fairytale-based Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Directed by Tommy Wirkola of Dead Snow fame, it lists Will Ferrell as a producer and saw its release delayed by a year to coincide with star Jeremy Renner’s meteoric rise in popularity.
Left in the forest alone as children to deal with an evil witch in a house made of sweets, Gretel (Gemma Arterton) and Hansel (Jeremy Renner) grow up to become proficient hunters of anything supernatural. Upon being called to a town with a witch problem, they discover that matters are worse than first thought when the evil super-witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) comes for them, hoping to relieve Gretel of her heart and complete an evil ritual.
Strangely and despite trailers suggesting the contrary, this is not a film for young children, but rather a bloody, sweary and hyper-violent affair. The 15 rating it received in the UK is well deserved as Gemma Arterton’s introduction proves, as she utters the immortal line let the girl go or I’ll blow your fucking brains all over these hillbillies. In fairness it’s tough not to believe she’d do it too, especially as she has an American drawl to her accent. But the adult nature of the film doesn’t stop there. People find themselves beaten with tree trunks, flung face first into garrotting wire and having their heads squished like melons. It becomes a symphony of extreme violence that quickly loses its impact other than for an occasional ˜oooo’ or ˜ouch.’
The plot, as far as there is one, seems to follow Hansel and Gretel as they, well, frankly hunt witches. It’s not deep, or particularly meaningful, but it is honest, the title says Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and that’s exactly what they do. Over and over again. For the the whole film. It’s not that the film is fun and then slowly loses its appeal, it’s that is dreadful from the start and maintains that level of soul-crushing derisiveness throughout.
Fantasy films such as this are often built on internal logic. It’s not that they’re witch hunters, running around blowing things apart with rickety shotguns and in one scene, grenades. It’s that from within the terms that the film establishes that it makes no sense. Everyone speaks English with a European inflection, except Hansel and Gretel, who speak in full-blooded American. Where did they pickup such accents? How does Hansel know to inject himself with insulin to stop the effects of diabetes? Who does he know what insulin is? No one bothers to ask. They’re too busy rifling through the exposition that holds the shambling narrative together. In fact the dialogue itself is so bad, one wonders whether it is purposefully stilted to allow the film to take up residence as the flop-turned cult classic.
In fairness, the cast, which on paper might appear stellar, including the aforementioned Arterton, Renner, Janssen as well as Peter Stormare throw themselves into lunacy of tale. This proves to be a mild highlight in an otherwise painful viewing experience as their characters prove to be as three-dimensional as a square, including the cringe-inducing Jimmy Olsen rip-off from Thomas Mann. The witches are visually impressive and quite creepy, but when the standout character is a CGI troll called Edward, you know you’re in trouble. The ending sets up an obvious sequel and potential franchise, but it’s tough to see who the real market would be? And when you’re yearning for some good old fashioned Twilight action, you know it’s all gone horribly wrong.