A film review by Craig J. Koban January 30, 2013



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.  

So, yeah…that wrongheaded. 

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 nonsensical mayhem. 

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:  (1) Hansel – 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.

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