Shaking up classic fairy tales that we all grew up listening to at bed time, on film in a modern way is good entertainment. There is something nostalgic about seeing a twist on an old classic that we remember as a child; we recognize the story and are invested in the characters prior to the opening sequence. Fables and fairy tables were intended to direct moral or ethical messages to young children. These lessons were often delivered in strange ways that seemed harmless, but upon examination included elements of horror, torture and death. In the classic German tale, Hansel and Gretel, the pair are left by their parents in the woods to perish and instead are threatened by a cannibalistic witch. The siblings outwit the witch and end up cooking her alive in her own oven. This is what nightmares are made of, which is why it seems only natural Hollywood would rework the classic tale of sorcery and death. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), built upon the iconic child’s tale and naturally answered the question, what do two people who nearly escape death at the hands of a witch become as adults? They become witch hunters.
Horror films are becoming more difficult to define based on their characters and subject matter. It used to be that if vampires, werewolves or witches were included in the subject matter, most definitely we would expect a type of film to follow; one that elicited fear and horor. Of course witches have already spent a long time on the silverscreen sharing genres other than horror. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the topic of witches also share elements of fantasy more so than vampires. Practical Magic (1998), The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Witches (1990) are dramatic, romantic and comedic approaches to the traditional horror stories.
When I heard that Tommy Wirkola wrote and directed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I was excited. The film would be a follow up to his smash success, Dead Snow (2009). Highly successful and a perfectly over the top, funny and horrific film, Dead Snow delivered fans of the genre an instantly classic film. Working with a limited budget seems to focus filmmakers to create a work of art with every piece of the film intended to be the way it is. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, is everything Dead Snow is not, and is an extreme let down. The film is as much of a horror film as Van Helsing (2004) is. The film is an action film, with the content matter of a horror film and is unfortunately misleading.
The film had potential as the content matter is interesting and could have gone in a variety of directions. Unfortunately, the execution of the film is weak and watered down. Most notably the biggest failure is the acting. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteron were terrible as the lead roles. Renner seemed irritated throughout the whole film and Arteron was unbelievable and delivered a woody performance, comparable to Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing.
What I found the most disappointing was lack of direction the film had, it seemed to have the promise of being a film it inevitably did not deliver. With the potential to take the subject matter to an over the top fashion with excessive gore and blood, they decided to wimp out and take the Hollywood approach and make it cheesy and pedestrian. The witches makeup appeared to be done by a last place contestant from a season Face Off, one even looking like Pinhead’s doppelgänger. The direction went from potential to traditionally quirky, where the always talented Famke Janseen is cackling on her broom stick, zapping spells at people. While our witch hunters look like they stepped off the set of the Matrix.
While an interesting subject, the film is recommended more for an action junkie than a horror fan. There is no real energy that brings the film together and the execution is lacking. The filmmakers seemed to suffer from the Michael Bay effect, where being provided an unlimited bank account to create the film, causes a blindspot. CGI does not make a movie. Ultimately, you need a good story, acting something memorable. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was an even duller and forgettable version of Van Helsing.