Friday, January 25, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) - Movie Review

If only the Will Ferrell connection could have morphed this into Hansel & Gretel: Bitch Hunter, then we really would have been onto something.

I'm referring to the 30 Rock "Bitch Hunter" joke, which featured Will Ferrell.  If you're wondering where the hell I'm going with this, I was surprised to see in the opening credits that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay co-produced Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. This immediately perked me up, thinking their involvement signaled that maybe I was in for a treat.  You see the names McKay and Ferrell on a movie and you think comedy, right?  Unfortunately, that's not what we got here.

The good thing I'll say for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is that is doesn't waste much time (it's not even 90 minutes) or have a particularly complex plot.  After a brief prologue that's basically a recap of the original folk tale, we fast forward several years later, and Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are all grown up.  The siblings have become a well known duo of witch hunters, who are hired by the mayor of a small town to investigate the kidnapping of several of the town's children by witches. Eventually they cross paths with the dark witch Muriel (Famke Janssen), who need the children to complete a ritual involving the upcoming Blood Moon.  The ritual will give the witches immunity to fire, which is still the best way to kill a witch, so Hansel and Gretel can't let this happen.

Despite being famous for witch hunting and supposedly having a lot of experience, Hansel and Gretel seem pretty bad at it throughout the film.  They setup traps that are easily gotten out of, don't fare very well in hand-to-hand combat, and haven't learned that you should lead a target when shooting at something that's moving.  Seriously, you see that happen at least three times in the movie.  Awareness of their location wasn't a strength of theirs either, as they are surprised to find the town they are investigating is a stone's throw from the house they grew up in.  Their lack of skill is made up for by having a modern-day arsenal of high powered weapons at their disposal.  This was another thing that kind of distracted me at first, but then I wrote it off as a stylistic choice.  I had to remind myself that these stories are fantasies, so if they want to put their own spin on it and add to the mythology, then go for it.  It's more forgivable than something like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which tries to add mythology and fantasy around real events and people.

The main problem with H&S:WH is that it's pretty clear they couldn't decide what kind of film they were trying to make. It was originally scheduled to be released in March of 2012, so when you see an almost year long delay, you think reshoots and lots of edits trying to find something that worked.  Opens with more of a horror feel, but there's never a scary moment in the film. Then, one of the first lines of dialog Gretel has she drops the 'F bomb', and it totally took me out of the film.  It made me think of Your Highness, which had a lot of profanity for no good reason other than to be vulgar to get a cheap laugh. There's even a nude scene that felt out of place.  Don't get me wrong, I don't have an issue with swearing or nudity, but if they don't add anything to the film, then it's kind of pointless.  It's simply not in the same league as more recent horror-comedies like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Zombieland or Cabin in the Woods.

It's also much gorier than I expected.  Again, it didn't seem they quite knew how they should use the gore though.  There's a great scene involving a troll that looked like Tito Ortiz (seriously though it was Derek Mears in a troll suit), but it's over in a flash and the movie doesn't surprise you like that again.  There's a mix of practical effects and CG effects, but you don't need to have a trained eye to tell the difference and know that the practical stuff worked better.  I didn't bother with seeing this in 3D, and while it was shot in 3D (and also available in IMAX), I didn't see anything about the visuals that 3D would have improved.

Poor Jeremy Renner.  After The Hurt Locker and then The Town, he seemed poised for super stardom, but then he ended up playing the least interesting superhero in The Avengers (something even he's expressed irritation over), a lackluster Bourne movie, and now this.  It's the same with Gemma Arterton.  I thought she'd be a bigger deal by now, but it just hasn't gone that way yet.  I really hope they are able to find some films that match the level of their talent.  I felt like both of them were trying here, and at times I thought they had good chemistry together, but the material really let them down.

It has a decent supporting cast that's also wasted.  Famke Janssen spends the majority of the film in unrecognizable makeup, and there's not much memorable about the role otherwise.  Peter Stormare is the town sheriff, and plays a weak bad guy that was simply a lazy character stereotype.  Thomas Mann has a small role as a huge fan/groupie of Hansel and Gretel, but while you can tell the character was meant to be comic relief, it just wasn't written that way.

Director Tommy Wirkola, who co-wrote this with Dante Harper, showed a lot of promise back in 2008 with Dead Snow.  Instead of building on that, he took a step back here with an unfunny script, and a story that's all over the place.  The thing that really made me notice this the most was that they introduce the fact that Hansel needs to take a shot every few hours or otherwise he spazzes out.  You think it might be some cool thing about how he's suppressing some witch disease or something like that, but then he says it's because he ate too much candy as a kid and now has a sugar disease.  Diabetes?  Really?  Why was this in the film?  To increase awareness of diabetes, but then never call it diabetes?  I'm surprised they didn't have a scene of Gretel massaging her breast and complaining about a lump.  Anyway, I think they should have totally gone wild with the gore, and then got someone to punch up the script.  The movie is treated way too seriously, and it should have gone for camp.  That's why I was so surprised to see Adam McKay and Will Ferrell as co-producers.  I figured they would have noticed that the film needed a lot more humor, and either added it themselves or brought in another writer to do so.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an inconsistent mixed bag that never figures out what kind of movie it wants to be.  It wastes the few good things it had going for it with flat dialog that desperately needed a huge infusion of humor.  I really wanted to have more fun with the film than I did.  I can only recommend this as a rental.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Hey Erik,
    Although I have no intention on seeing this film, I really enjoyed your review. You have a great voice and found myself laughing a few times. I completely agree on Jeremy Renner. After The Town I expected him to follow with something just as good, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.
    By the way, love your Death Star rating system


    1. Thanks, Christina! I'm sure Renner will get some good projects soon. Maybe he needs to consider a different agent though. :)