Director: Tommy Wirkola
This review originally appeared on Ramp.ie
It was fortuitous for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters that it opened in the US on the same weekend as Movie 43. That stinkbomb of a film soaked up most of the critical ire, whilst HAG:WH looked almost passible by comparison. On this side of the pond, it opens after the awards season has ended, and there’s nothing for it to hide behind. In the clear light of day, it clearly sucks.
Hansel and Gretel opens with the eponymous little tykes being abandoned in a forest by their father, discovering a gingerbread house and being captured by the witch dwelling within. They manage to free themselves and burn the old hag alive, and all within three minutes. Give writer/director Tommy Wirkola a little credit; he doesn’t subject us to his tortuous film for long. From its short running time (88 minutes, including credits) to its cheap-looking sets, every aspect of HAG:WH feels like no-one involved in its making is taking it seriously. The children grow up to develop Jeremy Renner’s biceps and Gemma Arterton’s pout, and watching these two trying to keep a straight face whilst blurting Wirkola’s dialogue is painful; Renner in particular looks embarrassed to have anything to do with this flick. He and his sister hunt down witches, and look smouldering whilst doing so (try counting the number of shots of Arterton’s behind or cleavage). They’re hired by the mayor of Augsburg (Rainer Bock) to hunt down Muriel (Famke Janssen), the witch kidnapping the town’s children. There’s opposition in the form of the sheriff (Peter Stormare, chewing the scenery) whilst Muriel herself is a mix of a hammy Janssen and Evil Dead’s make-up offcuts. Throw in some iffy CGI, an exposition overload and action scenes cut by Edward Scissorhands, and you’ve got yourself a headache-inducing experience.
On any possible level, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a flop. It’s nowhere near smart enough to be a Shrek-a-like commentary on the myth, but it’s got too many smashed heads, severed limbs and random f-bombs to be a dumb kiddy flick. Wirkola’s previous film, Nazi-zombie flick Dead Snow, was enjoyable due to its tongue-in-cheek approach and budgetary constraints. However, when you have talented people and much more money involved, the flippant approach is just wasteful. Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters is just another example of Hollywood taking a foreign-language director and neutering them by marrying the director’s ego to a bad pitch. For better results, see Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker, which opens on Friday. Hansel and Gretel needs to go on a pyre.