Runtime: 1 HR, 47 MIN
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writers: Tommy Wirkola, Dante Harper
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Thomas Mann, and Peter Stormare
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Will Farrell and Anchorman director Adam McKay decided to produce a fairy tale mashup then your time has come, Hansel & Gretel: Vampire Hunters has finally arrived. After a lengthy postponement, re-shoots, and most recently associating the film with MTV Films to bring in the Teen Mom crowd, this updated Brothers Grimm tale is ready to try luring audiences into theater seats.
In this retelling of the Hansel & Gretel fairy tail, the witch burning siblings are all grown up and make their living as travelling witch hunters. Their current mission is to rid a small village of the witch responsible for nearly a dozen child abductions. The problem is that the hunters are about to become the hunted.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is sure to do for Brother’s Grimm fairy tales what Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing did for the Universal’s monsters. In other words… not spawn a sequel. Bizarre movie mashups can be a lot of fun when done right, but the right balance has to found between the genres that are being mixed. Without balance any film will have a hard time finding an identity and that’s exactly what happened to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. From the very beginning it can’t decide if it wants to be an action, comedy, or horror film and that problem persists for the entire 92 minute runtime.
The film’s tone and dialogue have been described by the cast and crew in interviews as “Tarantino-esque.” To a certain extent that’s true, but only in a bad ripoff kind of way. A more honest assessment would be to say that the filmmakers took almost everything audiences and critics hated about 2oo4′s Van Helsing (costumes, set design, weapons, dialogue) and tweaked them for a ‘R’ rating. The fact that Hansel & Gretel rips off other movies doesn’t bother me so much as the fact that they rip off the worst aspects of other bad films.
The movie is bloody and violent, but it often looks cheap with almost everything being made out of exploding balsa wood and the blood coming courtesy of cheap CGI. There’s no explanation of why the siblings are dressed in medieval dominatrix outfits or how they traveled in time to get shotguns, grenades, automatic crossbows, machine guns, or modern day bullets. There’s also more than just a subtle incestuous feel to the film as Hansel & Gretel seem a little too close and comfortable with each other even after escaping being baked in a witch’s oven together.
Originally Hansel & Gretel was supposed to be released before The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy, and now this film may benefit from it’s added star power. Arterton seemed to be finished with films like this after 2010′s Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and now her presence seems almost out of place considering the roles she’s been going after recently. The fifteen year age gap between Renner and Arterton isn’t too noticeable thanks large in part to Renner looking a lot younger than 42. Neither of their performances is worth raving about; Renner seems to be phoning it in a bit while Arterton confuses being a tough feminine hero with being a butch woman with a foul mouth.
Famke Janssen does the best she can within the confines of the script. She’s familiar with playing a villain and knows the right notes to hit, but unfortunately she’s encased in so much makeup the she’s forced to give up the femme fatale aspect that has worked for her so well in the past. After praising his work in my review of The Last Stand I am disappointed to say Peter Stormare isn’t nearly as effectively used here. Even more so than Famke, Stormare knows how to play a villain, but here he’s more of a bumbling oaf than a sadistic sheriff.
I’m sure at this point you’re thinking, “He really hated this movie.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m far from loving it. It’s hard for me to hate a movie like this for a number of reasons; it’s short so it doesn’t drag, it earns its ‘R’ rating by having plenty of naughty language, there’s some gruesome violence, there’s some nudity thrown in for good measure, and in the end the film’s aims were never set very high. The filmmakers knew what kind of film they were making and it’s obvious it wasn’t meant to be high art. My problem is that despite their low aims they still didn’t do a good enough job of executing their plans.
One small area were I think director Tommy Wirkola got it completely right was with the Troll character of Edward. I loved the fact that he’s not a CGI creation, but instead is a combination of a guy in a suit and animatronics. It’s a nice touch that gives Hansel & Gretel just a glimmer of the 80′s Dark Crystal look that would have served the film well in greater proportions.
Hansel & Gretel is the perfect example of how trying to please the fans of too many genres can end up pleasing no one. As an action film it’s mildly entertaining, as a horror film or a comedy it’s a failure. Mild mediocrity might have been the best we could have hoped for with a film like this and it could have been a lot worse. Cut out the star power and slash the budget and you’re looking at SyFy Channel Saturday night movie so we might be lucky it was only this bad.