Saturday 9 March 2013

Dark Review - Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Dark Review Image

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review

By Casey Douglass

Director and Writer: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner , Gemma Arterton , Peter Stormare , Famke Janssen

“This swamp witch used to have power, respect and numerous children to eat. Now, she fights over skinny orphans and must always keep a wary eye out for Hansel and Gretel; two witch hunters who between them have severely reduced the local population. Just two pieces of gold can change the life of this poor witch for the better!” I can just imagine this advert appearing on the TV while people are eating their dinner. While accurate in its content, anyone with half a brain would know that it was merely spread as a tool of witch propaganda, hoping to get people to drop their guard and feel pity for the old hags.

Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) certainly live up to their moniker of Witch Hunters in this reworking of the old Grimm fairytale. Abandoned in the dark forest by their father (for their own good dontcha know), they stumble across that oh so famous house, you know the one, constructed from sweets and cakes and all things that make your teeth scream and your stomach gurgle. This is where they encounter their first witch; no mild-mannered old lady either but a hideous razor toothed crone with shrieking voice and a glowing wand. This part of the tale follows the usual route, with an impromptu cremation of the witch and Hansel and Gretel standing next to each other panting.
The traditional fairytale ended not long after this point, but H&G:WH is just getting started. The main title credits roll, the montage of medieval art showing brother and sister culling witches as they slowly grow older, taller, and more bloodthirsty. The story catches up with them many years later, when both are adults and more than a little jaded with the world and their fame. They take on the role of vermin exterminators, called in to trouble spots by mayors and villages struggling with disappearing children and outbreaks of witch phobic behaviour. The village in this film is under an extra special threat however, and the outcome has more than purely business implications for the two siblings.

The film progresses at a very nice pace, never too long between the odd humorous moment or expletive, and the action of actually dispatching the witches in suitably gory ways. The film is rated 15 and I would say it sits nicely in that bracket. The combat is fast paced and inventive, and the resulting splattering of gore suitably over the top to be enjoyable and a little humorous. There are some great set pieces to keep the carnage ticking along, and as the film progresses, the odd new creature or variation of witch all help to hold the interest.

The reworking or improving of the old Grimm tale is very clever, with a few twists that you can see coming easily, and others which might genuinely catch you unawares. I went to see this film expecting a bit of fun wrapped in some gore, and what I got was an appreciation of how you can adapt and expand on existing stories while keeping to the spirit of them, if not the letter.
If there are negatives about the film, I am sorry to say that it falls on the acting. Renner and Arterton both maintain steely expressions for the most part, the depth of emotion seemingly limited to the odd scream or grimace of pain. Peter Stormare as the sheriff plays an almost comedic role, even though he is also meant to be a nasty piece of work. Famke Janssen is very good as the most powerful of the witches who can appear more human if she wishes. Even appearing as human, Jansen gets a lovely sinister quality to her expressions and speech, which only improve more when she is in full-on hag mode.

The score for the film is your typical olde-worlde type fantasy fare, functional but not something to rush out and track down. The odd piece of heavier rock also features, with a great track over the end credits by the now sadly defunct band Animal Alpha.

The only other thing that I felt was an issue was the 3D. It did its job well in some scenes, at the most, you could say it didn’t get in the way. Many of the earlier scenes are amongst dark trees at night, and the 3D there was pretty woeful. Films like Prometheus were very dark also, yet the 3D in that was uniformly good, in my humble opinion. A minor gripe.

I liked Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I went thinking it would at the least be a bit of fun, and was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns that the story took. The occasional humour and over the top gore lent it a lighter feel, and the setting and creatures were for the most part very good, if you can overlook the odd bit of tame looking CGI.

Rating: 3.5/5


Also posted on Generic Movie Blog UK here.