There’s the kernel of a good idea in there somewhere: after being kidnapped by and subsequently defeating an evil witch who lived in a house made from confectionery, the heroes of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale grew up to become professional witch hunters. Jeremy Renner’s Hansel and Gemma Arterton’s Gretel lead a nomadic life picking off witches wherever they find them, but when they arrive at a small town and encounter a dangerous coven of witches (led by Famke Janssen’s Muriel) who are kidnapping children, there’s the danger that they might have finally met their match.
It’s high-concept, but it’s not necessarily an out and out dumb concept. There’s a lot of fun that could be had with it. In fact, there’s one particular fun idea that’s introduced early on when we see Hansel mysteriously injecting himself with something. It’s insulin – turns out the witch force-feeding him sugary treats as a child to fatten him up gave him diabetes. That is a fun idea, isn’t it? Well, sadly it’s the only one.
The problem is that tonally Tommy Wirkola’s film all over the place. From scene to scene it’s nigh on impossible to judge whether the film is supposed to be dramatic or comedic. If the intention was to be both comedic and dramatic then that’s all well and good, but it never manages to be both within the span of a single scene. That shouldn’t damn the film entirely though, but should simply mean it’s wildly uneven. No, what damns the film entirely is that the comedic scenes aren’t funny, and that the dramatic scenes aren’t interesting. Some of the dramatic scenes do end up being funny, oddly enough, but it’s far from intentional. Gemma Arterton actually shares poignant (and romantic?) scenes with an ugly troll called Edward who looks like he’s made from papier-mâché. No, seriously.
Maybe it wouldn’t seem so bad if the plot made a lick of sense…but it doesn’t. The witches have an evil ritual planned which requires the kidnapped children, a blood moon (represented in the film by a symbol that very closely resembles Community’s ‘E Pluribus Anus’ flag), and for some contrived reason, Gretel – lucky she just happens to be in the area then. Things are complicated further by Peter Stormare’s Sheriff, who seemingly without any motivation also serves as an antagonist, and who without any powers seems to cause Gretel more problems than the average witch.
Visually there’s very little improvement. The 3D is an awful and unnecessary addition that renders the dark opening sequence in particular very difficult to see, let alone comprehend. The action’s incoherent and messily staged. The witches’ faces look like cheap Halloween masks. I’m grasping for a positive here but I just can’t find one – even that fun insulin idea I mentioned earlier is clumsily handled. Thanks to a a handful of gory scenes and a brief bit of (yet again, unnecessary) nudity the film has picked up a 15 rating which means it will likely elude its most receptive audience too. It’s yet another example of the filmmakers missing their target…if only Hansel and Gretel had missed their targets as often, then we might have had a much shorter film to sit through.
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