Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a strange creature. By all rights, this movie seems like it should have gone straight-to-DVD. The title alone is enough to make you question the viability of its theatrical release and when you see that Famke Janssen (X-Men, 100 Feet) is one the stars, it only pushes that belief further in said direction. Then you see that it has bagged Jeremy Renner (The Avengers) as half of the titular duo and realize that Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are executive producers on it and that’s when you really start to question the exact position this movie is in.
Through and through, Hansel & Gretel is a mixed bag. As stated, McKay and Ferrell’s studio produced the project, as well as MTV Films, and it has an oddball cast peppered among the already strange ensemble production team. Tommy Wirkola, the director behind 2009’s surprise hit Dead Snow has penned and directed this project, his first American and “big budget” film. Renner and Gemma Arterton (The Disapperance of Alice Creed) head up the cast, with Janssen co-starring as the main antagonist, Muriel.
The plot, just like the script, is simple. Hansel and Gretel are left alone to their own devices, only to run into their first witch. They kill her and this, coupled with their mysterious immunity to magic, leads them into a career of witch hunting. They are hired by a mayor to stop the kidnappings occurring in town and unveil a plot by a coven of witches to acquire an immunity to fire, basically their kryptonite. Along with the help of suspected witch Mina (played by Pihla Viitala) and fanboy Ben (Project X’s Thomas Mann), the witch hunters must foil the coven’s plans before it is too late. It’s a pretty run of the mill plot.
This being said, the movie is mostly enjoyable. You can’t go into it expecting something like Hellboy, although at times it’s easy to see flickers of Del Toro, Burton and Gilliam scattered about. If approached with the right attitude, you can come away from this viewing experience completely satisfied. The film is full of ridiculous anachronistic weapons that would be comfortable in any number of Capcom video games, such as a rapid-fire crossbow, a grappling gun/bow and arrow hybrid, and a Medieval cattle prod. The tone of the movie allows you to just accept that these things exist and enjoy watching Renner and Arterton beat the hell out of witches for minutes and minutes on end. At least two dozen witches make appearances, nearly all of them unique and sinister in their own way, and the makeup is fun and kitschy in the best way possible. Sprinkle in Renner and Arterton dropping the F bomb at opportune moments and you have yourself an only slightly lacking adventure horror movie.
There are a few issues that bog it down a little more, however. Renner really phones in his role, appearing bored and almost impatient for most of the movie. This is pretty well balanced out by Arterton, who seems to putting her all into it. The plot and writing are both clunky, they would definitely be more at home on television, and some of the cinematography was incredibly dated. (Really? A Matrix-esque dodge in 2013?) Some of the subplots are forced and were obviously made to crutch certain parts of the movie, such as Hansel’s diabetes (yes, you read that correctly) or Gretel’s friendship with Edward the Troll (played by horror vet Derek Mears.) The witches, while most of the time intriguing, occasionally look like something done by the losing contestant of Face/Off.
At it’s best, it reminds you of stronger horror fantasies, such as The Brothers Grimm, Labyrinth, or The Witches. But at it’s worst, it comes off as the highest budget SyFy original movie ever made. Fortunately, the lows don’t appear as often as you would think. Like I mentioned before, if taken at face value, Hansel & Gretel is well worth the view.