Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – Film Review

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and Peter Stormare

Released: Out Now

Low expectations for a film are often a blessing in terms of how they are received. It makes good films great and bad films bearable. The only time low expectations are actually a bad thing are when you’re trying to review a film and you can’t tell whether you enjoyed it because you weren’t expecting much from it or because it was actually good. For anyone who has seen the trailer, or even read the title of this 3D indulgent fart of a film, they will probably have a pretty good idea for what they’re in for: a ridiculous plot, bland characters and woefully terrible dialogue. Rest assured, all of these elements are present. And yet…

The film takes it’s cues from the Hansel and Gretel fairy-tale (no, really!), only it adds a modern twist to it. Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) grow up to be witch hunters (no, seriously!), with the goal of ridding the world of evil witches. There isn’t much more of a plot than that. Apparently there’s a ‘pattern’ in the witches behavior in this film, but all you really need to know is that a bunch of witches get beaten up to the sounds of mediocre rock music.

The first comparison to this film that comes to mind is Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman. In fact, to save everyone a bit of time, if you enjoyed that film, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will probably enjoy this as well. It has that same campy feel about it. It gives the impression of being ‘hard-core’ and ‘cool’, when actually it’s about as authentic as Quentin Tarantino’s Australian accent. Unlike most films of this ilk however, it has a notably impressive budget, made readily apparent by how good the special effects are. In a film that features trolls and witches (of which there are some variety), it is an impressive feat that the use of CGI is barely even noticeable.

Hansel and Gretel dress in mega-suave black leather. Witches cackle out awful one-liners in the face of death. Hansel is packing a goddamn GATLING gun! The entire film is stupidly ridiculous, but at least it knows it is. It doesn’t expect much audience investment, so it keeps things rolling the only way it can: with a short running time (88 minutes) and by packing as much action in there as possible.  And thankfully, mercifully even, the action isn’t all that bad. It deserves the R rating it gets, with plenty of violence and blood, regular F-bombs and even a touch of nudity. It calls into question what kind of audience this is aimed at, with its mature yet massively immature tone. There is a semi-coherent plot in there somewhere (witches are collecting children for the next full moon in order to become invincible using their blood), but essentially it’s just an excuse for the two stars to find witches and have fisticuffs with them.

These brawls and melees are connected by the occasional pause in which there is no fighting, and it is these moments that are the most difficult to assess. The impression one gets is that the writers, director and even actors were just very, very lucky in happily stumbling in the right direction. The tone of the film makes it impossible to believe that much thought went into anything. Still, the predictably awful dialogue is entertainingly horrible rather than cringe-worthy, the forced plot is incidental and therefore easily dismissed, while the actors detached, deadpan manner gives the distinct impression that they find this film as ridiculous as we do, which somehow gives their performance an abstract level of depth.

It is possible that this is reading too much into things. However, it is about the best explanation we’re going to get on why a film that, at face value, represents the very worst of what Hollywood has to offer, still succeeds in being not only watchable but actually entertaining. At one point in the film, we are introduced to a troll who has something of a sub-plot. This section comes across, again, as incidental to the plot, but unfolds in such a deadpan manner that it results in being unintentionally funny, to the point of laugh-out-loud hysterical. There is also another moment in which there is a subtle reference to Snow White. The placing of this reference is so delicate that it might make the audience question whether it was intentional at all. Then, moments later, there is another reference to Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, which is so blatantly in-your-face that you’ll find yourself laughing at the thought of how subtle you thought the movie was being only seconds ago.

This seems to be the main entertainment tool, having the audience constantly asking Are you serious?!. Having all but given up hope on seeing another so-bad-it’s-good film, Hansel and Gretel seems to have gotten the formula right, to the extent that it is almost an enigma. Is the hilarity of these moments actually intentional? Are Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton really giving an incredibly detached performance for the sake of comedy? Can a crossbow really shoot in two directions at once?

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not a good film, all entertainment value appears to be purely accidental. However, it does deserve a watch, just so you may ask yourself these questions, and maybe, just maybe, get an answer for yourself (And if you do, please share with us at Bone-idle.ie).

Score: 2/5

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