The classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel is about two young children who are abandoned by their parents in a densely wooded area after a horrid stepmother convinces their father that the two eat entirely too much food and will eventually cause them to starve. After successfully ditching the children, Hansel and Gretel stumble upon a house made out of gingerbread and other confectionary treats, only to find an evil cannibalistic witch lives there and she is intent on eating them. Defeating the witch and returning home with all her riches to find only their grief-stricken father, they all live happily ever after. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is not that story.
In the hands of Dead Snow creator Tommy Wirkola, the Hansel and Gretel story has been transformed into a darkly comedic fantasy adventure about two children who start off with a similar backstory, but instead of returning home to a happily-ever-after ending, become vengeful mercenaries who travel town to town killing every witch in their path. Played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, we’re given an over-the-top, twisted re-imagining of the revenge film genre by taking a fabled childhood story and injecting it with horror/action exploitation which makes the whole ridiculous endeavor a surprisingly enjoyable viewing experience.
Now, most critics have been absolutely tearing Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a brand new asshole, mocking the ludicrous story and “mechanical” delivery, but as a die-hard horror fan, I myself find it much easier to appreciate unadulterated entertainment even with predictable story-telling and clichéd genre moments. You won’t be surprised or taken to new lands of insanity, but with such a fun atmosphere, I found myself enjoying the brutal witch hunting and bevy of creatures Hansel and Gretel fight, never being bothered by lacking cinematic quality.
I mean, you had to expect some level of absurdity given that Wirkola is the man responsible for an extremely gory and violent film about Nazi zombies, splattering bright red blood all over the pure white snows of Norway. Now sure, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is based off a fairy tale, but Wirkola once again crafts his film with an extremely visual horror appeal, much like Dead Snow, but I admit there were times I completely forgot Wirkola had achieved an R rating. There is plenty of graphic action and enough gushing liquids to really get weaker viewers squirming, no doubt winning me over, but other more bland moments fell into PG-13 territory. In no way is this a breaking point in the film, but all these story moments other critics can’t seem to get past do admittedly slow down pacing unnecessarily, making us wish for Wirkola to do nothing but gift us with gratuitous violence.
But as admitted, certain scenes of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters really will hit the sweet tooth of true genre fans. Squashed heads, exploding bodies, razor sharp wire cutting, oozing dismembered body parts – Wirkola knows how to make already fun and exciting fantastical battles all the more enticing.
Renner and Arterton get extremely physical for their roles, getting down and dirty along their many run-ins with magic-wielding evil witches. The two seriously roll with the punches and use a slew of ingeniously designed weaponry which fits the enchanted world Wirkola creates, keeping adrenaline pumping fast enough to carry viewers from one brawl to the next. We already knew Renner would fit perfectly into such a role, but Arterton was a pleasant surprise while throwing punches and chasing down baddies.
I’ve been throwing the classification of horror around a tad, but know Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters isn’t solely horror, instead being more of an explosive action/adventure which borrows moments from horror, adding to the whole experience. Wirkola’s witches all have their own distintive style, putting a large amount of effort and creativity into the vibrant feel of his film. He could have easily made all witches just pale-faced women with black lipstick or something cheap along those lines, but no. Every witch has their own unique twist, be it scales, horns, veins, color, wings – anything. Like vicious and murderous snowflakes, no two witches are alike. But this wonderful attention to detail spans farther than just characters, also encompassing beautiful sets like the outside of Wirkola’s opening gingerbread house and colorful forest backdrops – and oh how sweet it is.
I’ll make this easy – if you’re looking for nothing but some B-Movie fun in theaters, I highly recommend Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. While the lackluster scripting will leave some faces puckered as a result of some sourness, there’s just too much unavoidable genre awesomeness for entertainment-seekers to enjoy. Yes, those who need a rich and insightful watching experience are going to be seriously let down, but why does every film need such intelligence? Much like the candy that constructs the house our first witch lives in, Wirkola’s film is a sweet indulgence not entirely necessary, but what the hell, it’s just a few extra calories well worth the mindless enjoyment. Trolls, witches, gore, fabled characters, gadgets – screw it, treat yourself!