A film review by Craig J. Koban January 30, 2013
HANSEL AND GRETEL:
2013, R, 87 mins.
2013, R, 87 mins.
Jeremy Renner: Hansel / Gemma Arterton: Gretel / Famke Janssen: Muriel / Peter Stormare: Sheriff Berringer / Derek Mears: Edward
Written and directed
by Tommy Wirkola.
There is no kind of necromancer spell that could have possibly saved HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS from its own wrongheaded awfulness. Here’s a film that’s – ahem – produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay of ANCHORMAN fame, stars a two-time Oscar nominee and a former Bond Girl, is ever-so-loosely adapted from the early 19th Century German folk fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is in 3D, was shot well over two years ago and is finally being released – make that unceremoniously dumped and abandoned – in the lackluster no-man’s land that is the January film season.
This film would
have only been much more entertaining if its producer Ferrell played Gretel in
drag and Hansel at the same time for the purposes of all-out farcical
comedy. Alas, HANSEL AND
GRETEL seems to have absolutely no idea whatsoever what it’s trying to
be or what it’s trying to say about the legendary source material.
Is this a spoof? A
satire of the Grimm fairy tale universe?
A wink-wink, nudge-nudge modernistic take on the fairy-tale filled
with self-congratulatory irony? A
semi-serious, semi-campy blood-spattered horror film?
I don’t have the foggiest notion, and neither do the makers of
the film. I guess that, in a
nutshell, HANSEL AND GRETEL is aiming at schlocky laughs and a
tongue-in-cheek approach, maybe a bit akin to THE PRINCESS BRIDE meets
EVIL DEAD. Yet, for a film
that's aiming for laughs this one’s is a comic dead zone and for one that’s
trying to frighten viewers, it’s never once unsettling or
nerve-wracking. HANSEL AND
GRETEL, as a result, is a rare double-threat failure.
Alas, the film
does at least reference the Grimm fairy tale, albeit with some beyond
obvious tweaking. Hansel and
Gretel are introduced in the film as children that are mysteriously
abandoned in the forest and are then drawn to a creepy, but inviting
cottage all made of candy. Unbeknownst
to them, a vile and decrepit witch resides inside, who captures the
unsuspecting kids and tries to make them into supper.
The children – through their own resourcefulness – manage to
escape and kill the witch in the process.
The film then flash forwards many years and the adult siblings
(played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton respectively) have matured into
a highly lethal and competent witch-killing tandem.
The dynamic duo
is brought to a village that is being run by a rather filthy piece of
work, Sheriff Berringer (Peter “I play every nefarious and slimy bad guy
that comes my way” Stormare). The village’s children have been mysteriously stolen by a
rather powerful and wicked witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen), whom may or
may not have something to do with Hansel and Gretel’s parents’
disappearance all of those years ago.
Both Hansel and Gretel decide to rid the world of Muriel once and
for all, and along the way they find unlikely allies in the form of Mina
(Pihla Viitala), a beautiful woman that harbors a big secret, Ben (Thomas
Man), a local witch-hunter-loving nerd with a thing for Gretel,
and Edward (Derek Mears), a rather large troll that has a big beef with
Muriel. This all culminates in a climax that involves, in no
particular order, a Sabbath feast, obligatory sacrifices, a good white
witch’s heart, a blood moon…and all obtrusive forms of CGI-infused
I was bored
senseless with HANSEL AND GRETEL within its first ten minutes.
For a barely over 80-minute feature, the film is predictably low
on plot details, exposition, character development, and an overall
cohesive narrative. The title
characters themselves are barely defined as intriguing personas; they are
more or less faceless, charmless, and banal wooden action figures that are
at the mercy of this film’s bloody disgusting action carnage.
There’s also not much in the realm of platonic sibling chemistry
between Renner and Arterton. Renner
in particular looks positively stiff, mannered, and disinterested throughout the entire film. Arterton
seems a bit more interested in the proceedings, but she lacks total conviction
in her role as a kick-asser of broom-riding devils.
Janssen – frequently caked in grotesque makeup – is so
deliriously over-the-top that her performance is actually more frightening
than her character.
Again, the whole
film’s tone, look, and aesthetic choices are schizophrenically all over
the map. What’s even
more mind-numbing is how the film thinks its laundry list of self-aware
and potential hilarious anachronisms are novel and inspired, yet all they
do is contribute to the film’s already foggy narrative.
HANSEL AND GRETEL has a medieval look in terms or production design
and overall settings, but the two heroes wield weapons that would even
make a 21st Century soldiers blush with envy.
The siblings sport shotguns, pistols, Gatling guns, machine gun
crossbows, hand-cranked tasers, and so on. When they are not dishing
out artery spewing and brain-splattered death to the witches they come
across, the pair drop down modern colloquial usages of the f-bomb to sound hip
and cool, but this ultimately seems to be used to add would-be hilarious punctuation to already
stale lines. There are two
anachronistic gags I did like:
– as a result of his encounter with eating portions of the candy covered
witch house as a child – must shoot primitive insulin injections into
his leg to stay alive and (2) village milk bottles have missing children
pictures on them.
Yet, a miniscule
number of good gags are all for naught, because HANSEL AND GRETEL
ultimately seems all about its gratuitously and numbingly gory
violence, shot in a murky and dark color palette made all the more
indecipherable in the already murky 3D format. Things are perfunctorily thrown at the camera for just the
right eye-gouging effect, everything from limbs being lobbed off to torsos exploding by the weight of a troll foot to heads being hacked
through and impaled without a care in the world to decorum. It’s almost as if the film were going out of its way for an
R-rating, which is odd because usually it’s the other way around.
Typically, I have no problem when films try not to sanitize
themselves down to a limp PG-13, but here the violence and action is more
desperately anaestheticizing than wondrously exhilarating.
Very few films have been made without a rational reason for existing in the form they were released in. HANSEL AND GRETEL is regretfully just one of those dubious examples. I’ve been reading some past press about the film and some of the stars’ comments about it - while it was still in production - is positively head-shaking. Famke Janssen described HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS as “Tarantino-esque,” which all but proves that she has never, ever seen a Quentin Tarantino film. Producer Adam McKay’s comments are even more unsettling: “It’s a hybrid sort of old-timey feeling…we heard [the premise] and we were just like, ‘That’s a franchise! You could make three of those!’” For every filmgoer of modest taste on the planet…let’s pray that this does not happen.