January 23, 2013

THE SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”


HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS:  Not At Any Price – Audiences Won’t Live Happily Ever After

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is mostly terrible, but say this for it:  it’s not terrible like anything else out there.  If you’ve always wanted to see an R-rated, gore-ridden, smart-alecky anachronistic fantasy in which fairy tale characters blow away other fantasy characters, this is your chance.

Also, the title isn’t at all misleading.  This is indeed the story of the grown up Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), they of the witch’s house in the woods made of candy with the big oven, who having survived their run-in with the proprietor of said establishment, now make their living traveling between Eastern European towns and grimly annihilating the local spellcasters.  The story is seemingly set sometime in the Middle Ages, although Hansel and Gretel, among other characters, talk with modern American accents–including the British Arterton–and contemporary slang in the script by director Tommy Wirkola and D.W. Harper.

The story has the witch-hunting siblings summoned by a local mayor, very much against the wishes of the sheriff (Peter Stormare), to take care of their town’s problem, which is spearheaded by the mega-sorceress Muriel (Famke Janssen).  You see, despite the power of evil magic, the one thing a witch can’t protect herself against is being burned to death (as Hansel and Gretel discovered when they shoved their childhood witch into the oven), and Muriel is determined to close the window in that vulnerability with a spell that requires a multitude of dead local children.  The witch hunters, of course, won’t let that happen, and to the extent the movie has any theme, it’s about the pair, obsessed with slaughtering any witches they see,  learning that there’s a difference between good White Witches and evil Black Witches (apparently their local multiplex hasn’t screened The Wizard of Oz), and also something about their own past that will surprise absolutely no one.

This is Wirkola’s first Hollywood movie; he’s a Norwegian director whose most notable previous work was Dead Snow, a thriller about zombie Nazis that had a limited US release.  He doesn’t, to put it politely, have a lot of finesse, as either writer or director.  Things go boom or splat, plot twists are telegraphed 20 minutes before they’re revealed, and the special effects are low-rent by current Hollywood standards, including an ogre who seems to be at the technological level of 2001’s Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.  (The CG make-up that transforms Janssen into a crone is an effective exception.)  Although H&G was delayed from its planned 2012 opening to add 3D, it has the barely 2 1/2-dimensional look that comes with second-rate conversion, despite the occasional sharp object or splash of blood that flies off the screen.

The movie has no rhythm or consistency, although at 88 minutes, at least it has speed.  Renner and Arterton aren’t the slightest bit convincing as brother and sister, so much so that the movie keeps feeling as though an incest subplot might have been left behind in an earlier, darker draft of the script.  The strategy for both actors seems to have been to coast by on attitude.  Renner, trying to be cocky and charismatic, seems as uncomfortable as he was when hosting Saturday Night Live–you can really see his effort, which is the opposite of the desired effect.  Arterton, meanwhile, flattens out her voice to achieve her American accent and leaves all her expressiveness behind.  Janssen, the only one in the picture who seems to know exactly what she’s playing, seizes the opportunity to take over the movie whenever she’s on screen.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters feels terminally lazy, like a project that was sold on the basis of its title and then written and directed as an afterthought.  It isn’t particularly scary or exciting or sexy or even very amusing, just a dumb action picture that lurches from set-piece to set-piece.  What it lacks, more than anything, is magic.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."