Director Tommy Wirkola attempts to retell a classic tale with an R-rated over-the-top twist added onto it and the result is a complete abomination to the medium of film. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an uninspired mess of a film that tries to get by on its charm (which it has none of) and gore, but really only skates on actress Gemma Arterton and her ability to both look good in tight leather and to inject the film’s many dry moments with spots of questionable humor. Everything else (and I do mean everything else) is below the standard, even if the standard is that of a shitty B movie.
Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are two sibling witch killers. You should know the tale and by this point, but if you don’t it’s a fairly simple one. They were abandoned as children and they stumbled into a witch’s house. It was at that house that they realized their true calling for the world, which is to hunt and kill witches. They’re good at their job, but most townspeople think that they only bring bad, so they try and stay out of the spotlight when possible.
In this particular telling we have the two working for a local town to bring down an especially evil witch (played with spotty flavor by Famke Janssen) before it’s too late and she becomes too powerful to stop. Or some shit like that.
Seriously, that’s how lacking this film really is. Even the basic plot line of the film becomes smudged in one’s own lack of interest, because there’s simply nothing to fill out the film’s short running time. Director Tommy Wirkola has been praised for his Nazi zombie film Dead Snow, which I haven’t completely watched yet, and taking that out of the equation I had absolutely no expectations for this film.
There was once talk about a PG-13 cut getting released instead of an R, which would have made this film even more unbearable. The R-rating works if only slightly, because Wirkola at least knows to make the film gory and campy, but for some reason the effects range from impressive pieces of practical work to unfinished-looking CGI messes. Why Wirkola splits up the film’s shining moments is a question that might come back to budgeting reasons.
To really understand just how bad Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is you must focus your attention on star Jeremy Renner and his performance that will surely go down as one of the worst in his career. In this film he manages to suck almost all of the life out of the film and into his black-hole-like vortex that drains any emotions from all scenes. Any performance in this film is overshadowed by Renner’s inability to emote the simplest expression. Whenever co-star Gemma Arterton tries to lighten the mood with a throwaway joke Renner steps in and absorbs the comedy and spits out a facial expression that can best be described as waiting for an oil change. He just looks flat out bored and impatient, waiting for everything to end.
The supporting cast never manages to outweigh Renner’s hack performance. As I said earlier Gemma Arterton tries her best to look good, kick ass and occasionally tell a joke, but she’s running on fumes by the end. Peter Stormare goes from wacky and fun in The Last Stand to pointlessly cast and rarely used in this one. There’s also Famke Janssen playing the evil witch with a confused and rarely threatening look on her face. Derek Mears gets credit for playing a troll though, because that’s just funny and totally something that should make a film like this stick.
Do not see this film in 3D. The post-conversion clearly tried enhancing the fighting “pop-out” bits, but the transfer largely fails because it never serves a purpose. I spent 60% of the film with my glasses off and I still could make out everything clear as day. Also, the film takes place a lot during the nighttime and that’s just a recipe for disaster with 3D.
At the end of the day I’m still left questioning who should really get all of the blame for making Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters one of the worst theatrical experiences I’ve had to sit through in the past couple years. Does Tommy Wirkola get the blame for failing to make the story an actual adventure worth paying attention to? Or should Jeremy Renner get some credit for taking what should have been a fun popcorn flick and turning it into a lifeless bore?
I blame both the filmmaker and his leading star, because together they make for a real team of witches from hell that I’d gladly hire Gemma Arterton to hunt down with a double-sided (or whatever) crossbow. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is not a fun piece of R-rated camp that you should be telling all your friends about. Skip this and see The Last Stand, because at least that film understands proper tone and how to deliver something amusing.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – 5/10