Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
“Classic Tale, New Twist.”
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare
Synopsis: Hansel & Gretel are bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.
Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola’s story uses the Brothers Grimm’s grisly fairy tale as the starting point for his account of a pair of fearless sibling witch hunters who stride around medieval Germany in black leather while dropping F-bombs and brandishing cross-bows that fire arrows like a machine gun. It’s a fairy tale with modern sensibilities, which means that to anyone over 25 it appears as incongruous as it sounds. Wirkola also wrote the story, which has the feel and substance of an afterthought, but the movie’s energy does earn it a few brownie points even if, overall, the repetitious format (fight, argue, fight, argue) badly drags it down.
The prologue gives us a condensed version of the Grimms’ tale, with the two lost siblings, having been abandoned deep in the forest one night by their father, finding their way to a house made of candy. Lured inside by all this sticky confectionery, the kids soon finds themselves in the clutches of a hideous witch with a serious case of alopecia who tries fattening them up ready for roasting at gas mark 10. The kids manage to free themselves from their chains, however, and bundle the witch into her own burning oven. So far, so familiar.
The story then moves on to many years later, with the kids all grown up and transformed into Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner. It seems poor Hansel has a case of accelerated aging because he looks much older than his sister (Renner is 41, Arterton is 26), but they both share the same kick-ass attitude when it comes to witches, which is just as well because the area around the small town of Augsburg seems to be a honey pot for them. The witches are stealing the town’s children, you see, to sacrifice during the feast of the Blood Moon so that they can become immune to fire, their one weakness.
Rumours that Wirkola was prevented from portraying Gretel as a bulimia sufferer following her experiences at the hands of the evil witch suggest both that he isn’t entirely to blame for the awful blandness of the story and that profit was the sole motive for making the film. He does manage to give Hansel a case of diabetes — which surely wasn’t diagnosable or treatable back in Medieval Europe — but his affliction receives only a cursory mention. The characters have absolutely nothing else to differentiate them from one another, which of course means that we don’t really care what happens to them. Every five minutes Hansel or Gretel, or sometimes both, become involved in a choppily edited fight which involves over-the-top sound effects and lots of CGI blood (I watched the unrated version which runs a full 9 minutes longer than the 88-minute version), and after the first two or three fights the interest starts to wear thin. Much of the violence is directed at the females, and instead of becoming desensitised to it the experience of seeing women being repeatedly punched in the face becomes increasingly uncomfortable.