Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

“I told you we shouldn’t read the reviews.”

Release Date: 22 February 2013
15 | 88 minutes
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears, Pihla Viitala

Like a bewitched mortal tempted by an alluring spell-caster, European filmmakers who hit it big are often drawn to American studio projects. Sometimes, it can lead to a nasty result, as the likes of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and The Invasion’s Oliver Hirschbiegel have discovered. The fate of Tommy Wirkola, who unleashed zombie Nazis on the world with Dead Snow, has not been quite so bad. But that’s not to say Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is exactly a winner, either.

This is one of those disappointing occasions when a movie that wants nothing more than to entertain and amuse falls some way short of that aim. It’s not that this tale of the all-grown-up fairytale duo and their continuing mission to battle witches is rotten, it’s more just mundane. Aside from a few flashes of fun, it sort of sits there, flopping like a fish out of water.

So what works? Well, Wirkola hasn’t compromised on the gore, bringing splashy decapitations and other witchy endings to the screen with almost as much relish as he dispatched the undead. Gemma Arterton gives it her all as Gretel, and there are some fine prosthetics/animatronics on show, mostly lathered over Derek Mears to create helpful troll Edward.

But whatever flashes of inspiration there were in the development process, they weren’t enough to combat the issues already present that poison the whole affair. It started with a stale script from DW Harper, which is sorely lacking in original laughs to balance the horror. Add to that some studio meddling that spoiled the witches’ broth (including a largely unnecessary decision to go with 3D), and a late, pace-killing, forced exposition dump, and you’ve got a mildly entertaining action comedy that sometimes feels like a chore. Matters are hardly helped by a performance by Jeremy Renner that isn’t so much as phoned in as a series of text emoticons.

It’s a shame, as there was a chance for Wirkola to make a big impact here, and it’s not as if the concept was out of his comfort zone. But with the film doing decently at the US box office, perhaps he’ll have more clout next time around and live up to his promise.

Jim Blakey

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