Movie Review: "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters"
Rating: R (brief sexuality, nudity, strong fantasy violence and gore, language)
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2013
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" starts off just the way anyone who has ever read the fairy tale it is loosely based upon would expect. Young Hansel and Gretel are trapped by a witch in her cabin, and are being fattened up so they will have plenty of meat on their bones to make a good meal. They manage to escape, swearing that they will devote the rest of their lives to hunting down and killing all witches as revenge for their ordeal.
The pair spends the rest of their formative years becoming hand-to-hand combat experts, destroying witches and any other evil creatures foolish enough to cross their paths. Both Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) seem to have a bloodlust that can't be satisfied, since they are still haunted by what happened to them all those years ago. As adults, they are coaxed to a rural village that is headed by Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), who seems more interested in carnal pleasure than holding up the law. They are enlisted to fight Muriel (Famke Janssen), a powerful witch who is kidnapping the children of the town. She and her coven of witches intend on sacrificing their victims on the upcoming full moon, which happens to be a rare blood moon. If the coven makes the sacrifices properly on the night of the blood moon, they will be granted extra powers which will make them virtually invincible.
Hansel and Gretel gladly take on the challenge of destroying Muriel and her coven before the children are all slaughtered. As they gather information and form a plan, Hansel is seduced by Mina (Pihla Viitala), while gentle giant Edward (Derek Mears) catches the eye of Gretel. They try not to be too distracted by their potential paramours, trying instead to focus on the task at hand. Nobody has ever come close to defeating Muriel, so it is going to be a lengthy, epic battle to try and bring her down. The siblings seem up to the task, preparing a whole arsenal of weapons to prepare for the coming battle.
Director Tommy Wirkola brings the same fun, bloody sensibility to this film that he brought to "Dead Snow" in 2009. That film was a new take on both zombies and Nazis, creating a gore fest with a few smart, knowing winks at the audience. Similarly, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" is part fairy tale, part horror movie with some really intelligent twists thrown in. Wirkola expertly strikes a balance of comedy and fear, which should put him in demand to direct more films in the increasingly popular fairy tale genre.
The film was originally supposed to be released in 2012, but was pushed back because there were already a slew of fairy tale films being released, such as "Snow White and the Huntsman." The producers of the film also thought that it could be converted into 3D to take advantage of several gratuitous shots of heads and other body parts flying through the air, spraying blood everywhere. When a film is converted to 3D after it was filmed, the enhancement can often seem shallow and not worth the extra money that the movie theaters will charge to see it in this format. In this film, it actually adds to the story, giving it extra layers of blood and guts. The conversion was done so well that it looks like the movie was actually filmed using 3D cameras, with several scenes appearing to be tailor-made for three dimensions.
"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" could have just been a gory film filled with the two protagonists wreaking bloody mayhem on the villains, and it probably would have been a fun movie that made millions of dollars. Luckily, screenwriters Wirkola and Dante Harper envisioned much more for the movie, including a lot of plot and back story. Wirkola also serves as the director, so he is very familiar with the script and brings it to life using a fairly detailed background and a well-drawn set of characters. Instead of a mindless popcorn movie, the audience is instead treated to all the fun of a popcorn movie combined with the kind of suspense and tension that can only come with an actual plot. It is the best of both worlds deftly combined by Wirkola, which makes for a highly entertaining film that could easily become a franchise that will thrill audiences for years to come.