Trust me, I am the last person in the world who ever thought I would say this, but damn Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is pretty entertaining. Don’t get me wrong it’s completely moronic and tonally inconsistent mess, but also never ever boring, surprisingly funny, unbelievably violent. This feels like the movie that Van Helsing was supposed to be: a gothic monster hunting yarn filled with buckets of gore, manic bursts humor, unrelenting action, and it’s all over in less than 90 minutes.
That’s just enough time to get some guilty pleasure fun out of this gloriously stupid action/horror/comedy and it mercifully ends just before tedium starts to set in. It will never be remembered as a classic, but if you’re desperate for trashy fun with an edge, then surprisingly this fairy tale yarn will scratch that itch. Epic R-rated horror action movies like this aren’t supposed to exist in Hollywood. There should be a system in place preventing them from being made. Let’s hope it’s not the last on to slip through the crack, because this brand of trash entertainment can be even better (see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for more…no seriously, see it).The movie is completely moronic and tonally inconsistent mess, but also never ever boring, surprisingly funny, unbelievably violent.The movie is completely moronic and tonally inconsistent mess, but also never ever boring, surprisingly funny, unbelievably violent.
The movie opens with two little kids being dropped in the woods by a frightened father. It’s unclear why, especially when they need wonder only a few feet to find a giant candy house. You’ve read the title already, so you’ll know there’s a witch in there. She’s a big snarling rotting hag like the car-smashing old lady in Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. The kids end up throwing her in the oven in a surprisingly bloody battle and then after some pretty creative woodcut opening credits that bridge the gap, we fast forward a few decades and the kids are all grown up, now hunting witches for a living. They dress in leather because that’s an unspoken rule for action/horror heroes (Resident Evil, Underworld) and stumble into a town where all the children are missing. Turns out they arrived just in time for a massive child sacrificial ceremony hosted by a large coven. It’s going to be a bloodbath…hey, I never said the movie wasn’t dumb.
If you want a sense of the tone, the best indication is the Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola’s breakout hit Dead Snow. That was an Evil Dead homage in which a group of kids head out to a cabin and are besieged by an army of Nazi zombies (yes really, see it if you can). So the man has a sweet tooth for bad taste, buckets of gore, and a refusal to bore his audience. Hansel And Gretel fits that mold pretty perfectly. The witches are haggard, screaming monsters like the demons in an Evil Dead movie. They mock and squeal, never for a second feeling like human beings. The reason is simple: Wirkola plans on having his heroes slaughter the witches in wildly creative ways. Heads explode, bodies are set aflame, limbs are removed, razor wire turns high flying witches into hamburger, and all of it happens in 3D so that the entrails can fly towards the audience. This is a gorehound romp masquerading as a blockbuster. Wikola made the movie as a Norwiegan/Hollywood co-production (with the American money weirdly coming from Will Ferrell/Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions), so the violence was pitched to a European audience and we should all be grateful that there was no Hollywood neutering. That would have all been two easy.
Wirkola also enjoys a whiplash tone that suits the material well. At times it’s slapstick comedy, at times it’s pure horror, and more often than not it’s an action romp. There’s definitely a bit too much going on at once for a single movie, but that approach works more often than not and ensures you’ll never be bored. Wirkola can leap from shock to goofball laughs in an instant and if you don’t mind those kind of genre games entertainment lies ahead for you, sir. Admittedly, he’s not much of a storyteller. Hansel & Gretal is more a collection of stuff happening than a weaving narrative, but there’s just enough of a throughline to make you care about the characters and hate the villains. Jeremy Renner does his usual no-nonsense badass thing and carries off the hero role fairly well. The absolutely beautiful Gemma Arterton plays Gretel the same way and even though expressionless heroism isn’t her main strength, she’s a major talent who pulls off the role as well as possible. On the villain side of things, Famke Janssen (Jean Grey from the X-Men movies) camps it up as the evilest of all evil witches and clearly has fun doing it, while the dependably nutty Peter Stormare (“Pancake’s House” from Fargo) does his dependably nutty thing as an angry local sheriff. The rest of the cast are either witches or peasants and are there primarily to be blown up in some way.
Make no mistake, what Tommy Wirkola has made is not art. It’s pure trash, but good trashIt’s just that kind of movie, the one that you watch for the human explosions. Make no mistake, what Tommy Wirkola has made is not art. It’s pure trash, but good trash. What he lacks in storytelling finesse, he more than makes up for in style and visceral impact. This is moviemaking as a fairground attraction and with Wirkola given Hollywood level resources he creates a big beautiful machine to deliver his high-flying gore and action to the audience. This is the sort of over-the-top gimmick movie that actually works in 3D. It’s hard to get too emotionally invested in a movie while you’re wearing plastic glasses and swords are popping out towards your eyes. The best course of action there is to go the fairground route and fling thrills at the audience like a mad carnival barker with a $100 million budget. If you’re into this brand of blockbuster exploitation entertainment, Hasel & Gretal: Witch Hunters offers down and dirty fun that will never tax your little brain. The only downside is that the audience who would enjoy the movie the most is also the last audience who would buy tickets for a movie named after a fairy tale. Hopefully there’s enough crossover for the film to at least turn a profit. It would be great for the R-rated blockbuster to return folks, so either buy a ticket or never complain about the lack of those movies again. It’s an easy choice.