Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen
Running Time: 88 mins
Release: 27 February
3D: Skip it
Not content with what has been, the cultural trend of revisionism approaches everything from human history to classic literature with a big fat ‘What if?’ What if Abraham Lincoln was a literal weekend warrior, spending his down time fighting something a tad more supernatural than slavery? What if Hitler took a barrage to the face, instead of just a bullet to the head? It all serves to infuse these stories with a sense of 21st century catharsis, achieved through—what else?—extreme violence. As if history wasn’t bloody enough. Even the grisliest of fairytales are in line for a modern makeover, as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters—What if two overfed little kids grew up holding a serious grudge?—can attest.
After swiftly covering the events of the original fairytale (abandoned children, candy house, cannibalism, old woman burned alive; the usual kids’ stuff) the story catches up with the infamous siblings (Jeremy Renner & Gemma Arterton) 15 years later, now gainfully employed as full time witch hunters. Arriving at the folksy town of Augsburg just in time to save a woman wrongfully accused of witchcraft from being executed, the pair agree to hunt down the real perpetrator of the town’s rampant child abductions.
Utilising this acceptably flimsy set up, the film descends into a bloody and twisted action fantasy, never seeming entirely sure of what it wants to be but determined to have a hell of a good time regardless. Flip-flopping from Princess Bride like fantasy as Gretel bonds with indentured troll Edward, to grindhouse brutality as a cabal of witches is mown down by Hansel’s anachronistic arsenal—minigun anyone?—the film eschews sensibility in favour of the most immature of mature-content.
All of this is accentuated by the intermingling of fantasy stylings and a modern flair as incongruous as the duo’s heavy artillery. Hans Zimmer’s creepy score is paired with laughably conspicuous Norwegian rock; likewise the pair strut through German hamlets in leather trench coats showing off a plethora of inexplicable witch killing gadgetry. Yet it mostly works, aided no end by some great overall production design, make-up and refreshing practical effects.
What doesn’t work so well is the choppy story, which is tonally undermined by the film’s confused identity and feels like the result of a script redrafted into oblivion. Likewise Famke Janssen and her brood of witches fail to conjure much of a threat, despite mostly effective make-up leaving them at least visually villainous.
There was certainly potential here for something a little smarter—Hansel’s struggle with diabetes at least hints at a greater intelligence not quite apparent through most of the film. Regardless, the final product is an admirably self-assured action fantasy defined and driven by its incorrigible ridiculousness.