The title Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is disturbingly reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and unfortunately so is the film’s quality. What could have been either an exciting, funny supernatural romp, a Princes Bride style fractured fairy-tale or a genuinely creepy horror movie ends up as a clumsy, noisy yet dull action film.
A miscast Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteron play the titular twins who, after a traumatic childhood run-in with a witch, become bounty hunters shooting, lynching and burning witches across an American-accented medieval Europe. When queen witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) starts swiping village kiddies as part of a sinister ritual, Hansel and Gretel become embroiled in a battle that takes them back to their beginnings as witch slayers.
This film mostly consists of punch-ons between Hansel and Gretel and the various witches, a bit like a 17th century Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with witches instead of vampires and none of the wit or clever dialogue.
While frequent and vigorous, the fights and other actions scenes are poorly filmed with silly looking CGI blood splatter, nauseating shaky cam, poor lighting and people flying around on wires as if they’re in a stage production of Peter Pan. The film also features what is increasingly becoming distasteful gun worship.
Jeremy Renner can play an excellent scumbag (just watch The Town) but his grumpy demeanour is no good for a supposed hero. He grimaces his way through this dud as if he’s counting the minutes left until his contractual obligation ends. Gemma Arterton should have been a feisty heroine but her clunky performance, stiff delivery and cynical attitude make Gretel unconvincing and unlikeable. Famke Janssen produces some of her usual sultry style as the queen witch but is so submerged in effects she struggles to assert herself as a memorable character. The only likeable character is an enormous troll who looks like he could play for Queensland in the state of origin rugby and who has a King Kong- like affection for Gretel.
Director Tommy Wirkola has turned this story into too much of a contemporary action film and in the process, stripped the film of the creepy atmosphere of the original Germanic fairy-tale. It doesn’t help that the film has so many anachronisms like Tasers, machine guns and contemporary-sounding dialogue.
The film also ignores the fact that the witch legends drew from persecution and killing of women in brutal, backwards and misogynist societies.
Teenage boys weaned on gory videogames, nu-metal and dodgy action movies will probably lap up this film but anyone who values quality cinema or even pop-corn movies should avoid it.
Nick’s rating: Two stars.
Director(s): Tommy Wirkola
Release date: 7th Feb 2013.
Running time: 88 mins.
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