CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: The middle of the woods, outside a house made of candy. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach house.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: A house made of candy! Oh boy!
L.L. SOARES: I can think of better things for a house to be made of. Besides, I’m on a diet.
MA: Well, if you’re going to nitpick, I suppose I’d prefer a house made completely of chocolate. In fact, that looks like a chocolate doorbell. (starts to eat chocolate doorbell, which rings).
LS: Haven’t you read enough fairy tales to know you’re not supposed to eat the candy?
MA: I don’t care.
LS: Hey, this tile is made of Swedish fish. I think I’ll have a nibble.
(Door opens and nasty looking witch peers outside.)
WITCH: Welcome! Come on in, childr—-. (Looks at MA & LS, and frowns). Aren’t you two a little old for this?
LS: Speak for yourself, grandma. We’re just here to review a movie. We’re not here for the candy—at least I’m not! (elbows MA).
MA (wiping chocolate from his mouth): Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist. Hey this window is a giant lollipop! (starts licking)
WITCH: Hope you’re enjoying yourself. (adds on her fingers) That’ll be $15.00.
WITCH: Yeah! What do you think this is, a fairy tale? Pay up!
(MA pays her.)
WITCH: You, too. At a penny a piece, you must have eaten 30 cents worth of Swedish fish.
(LS pays her)
WITCH: Thanks. Have fun reviewing your movie. Make sure I receive some compensation. You are using the exterior of my home for your review, after all. Plus, I’m making a cameo…and it’s a speaking part! (waves at camera).
LS: And that’s your compensation: exposure. Now leave us alone, you old bag, so we can review today’s movie!
WITCH: Well, I never!
LS: That doesn’t surprise me.
(WITCH slams door).
LS (to MA): Would you like to start today’s review? I’m going to look around to see if there are any houses around here made from better stuff than candy.
MA: Sure. In fact, I’ll come with you. Let’s walk and talk. Welcome, everyone, to today’s edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Today we’re reviewing the new action fantasy horror movie, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013), the movie that asks the question: Can you turn a fairy tale into a hard hitting R-rated movie? The answer is—yeah, sure, but does it work? That’s the better question.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS opens with the traditional take on the fairy tale, with young Hansel and Gretel deposited in the deep woods alone by their seemingly evil parents, only to make their way to a house made of candy, in which lives a witch who eats little children. Of course, this time around, little Hansel and Gretel kill the witch and grow up to become witch hunters.
LS: They’ve been given a mission in life!
MA: Years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are hired by the Mayor (Rainer Bock) of a small village to find and kill the witches who have been abducting the children of the village, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), a lawman who’d rather burn witches first, ask questions later. Plus, Berringer is still steaming over the fact that Hansel and Gretel prevented him from burning a woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala), who he believed to be a witch but who Hansel believed otherwise, a situation which ended when Berringer received a nasty head butt from Gretel.
MA: Hansel and Gretel’s investigation leads them to the main witch baddie lurking in the woods, a witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen). With the help of a young witch-hunter wannabe, Ben (Thomas Mann), and a CGI-created troll named Edward (Derek Mears), who has a soft spot for Gretel, Hansel and Gretel go after Muriel and uncover some truths about their parents along the way.
LS: You probably should mention that Edward originally works for the bad witches and keeps the abducted children the witches steal in cages. It’s not until later that he “turns” good.
MA: When all is said and done, you already know which side is left standing and which side goes down.
One thing I’ll say for the folks who made HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, they took their jobs seriously, and they tried like hell to make this one succeed. And you know what? For a movie I wasn’t interested in seeing at all, I actually liked this one. Well, a little bit anyway. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t love this movie by any means, and I never really was able to get past the fact that I was watching a story about Hansel and Gretel, but there were a lot of things I liked.
First off, the screenplay by director Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper has a lot of things going for it. For one thing, even though this takes place in fairy tale land, people speak in modern day language, which means there are plenty of F-bombs flying around.
LS: I always hated that term: F-bombs.
MA: Well, this is a family-friendly site. Sort of. So we can’t exactly go on a cursing rant.
MA: At first, I didn’t think this worked, and I’m still not convinced that it did, but let’s put it this way: it made for some lively dialogue. This is a step up from the video game movies, like last year’s RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012), which really isn’t a movie at all, but an extended video game. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, as silly as it is, is several notches above those awful movie wannabes.
I also liked how the story returned to Hansel and Gretel’s parents, offering an explanation as to why they did what they did, abandoning their children in the middle of the woods. Some thought went into this screenplay, which is always a good thing.
LS: I actually thought the explanation of why their parents abandoned them didn’t make total sense, since leaving them alone in the woods wasn’t really all that safe, especially with an evil witch’s candy house right nearby. But the screenwriters tried.
MA: True, but I think the parents expected to retrieve them after a short time, but that being said, they certainly didn’t have a contingency plan if things went bad, as they ultimately did. So, you’re right, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
LS: Thank you.
MA: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS also looks good, and director Tommy Wirkola made some good use of the 3D effects in some of the battle scenes. There’s plenty of blood and gore here—yes, it’s CGI— and even some nudity, and so this is definitely an R-rated pic.
LS: I didn’t see this one in 3D. I was getting sick of paying extra for 3D effects I didn’t care about. That said, this one was just fine in 2D. I didn’t feel cheated at all.
But there could have been a bit more of that nudity you mentioned. We never get to see the fetching Gretel nude. Or Famke Janssen’s evil witch….but Mina is quite nice.
(THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, as played by Margaret Hamilton in green makeup, suddenly appears in a burst of red smoke)
WICKED WITCH (laughing): How about me! Would you like to see me nude as well?
LS: Not really. (thinks) Then again, I’ve always liked sideshows.
WICKED WITCH: Well, the witches in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS are pathetic wannabes. I’M the real thing. Do these witches have flying monkeys? Do they have soldiers with big furry hats? NO! All they have is one simple-minded troll who turns against them. I’m the real deal, baby.
MA: No one is denying that.
WICKED WITCH: Well you better not! If I hear you talking smack about me, I’ll turn you into toads – and ugly ones at that. Mark my words, dammit!
(Suddenly, a house falls from the sky and crushes the WICKED WITCH)
MA: Oh, that was unfortunate.
LS: Ding dong, the witch is dead. Let’s go on with our review.
MA: Okay. I wonder how HANSEL & GRETEL would do against her.
(The WICKED WITCH’s feet wiggle beneath the house)
WICKED WITCH’s VOICE: I’d eat them for breakfast.
LS: She might be right.
MA: Anyway, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton make for a very watchable Hansel and Gretel. The characters they’re playing are strictly one-dimensional, but they make the most of it and get as much out of Hansel and Gretel as possible. I can’t say that I liked either character, but I did enjoy watching both Renner and Arterton.
LS: I think the casting is probably the biggest reason to see this one. Jeremy Renner has just been getting bigger and bigger since he starred in THE HURT LOCKER in 2008, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (sadly, he didn’t win). Since then, he’s been in high-profile roles in movies like THE TOWN (2010), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) and, of course, as Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS (also 2012), even if he was a poorly developed supporting character in that one (and where the hell was Hawkeye’s mask from the comics?). He’s become an A-list actor and it’s surprising to see him in something like this.
MA: I agree.
LS: I also thought it was interesting how they made it so Hansel has to inject himself with something every once in a while to keep going. At first, you think he’s a drug addict, but it’s later revealed that they’re insulin shots—as he explains, he got very sick after eating all that candy in the witch’s house in the beginning when they were kids. I thought that was a cool touch.
As for Gemma Arterton, she’s a hottie I’ve had my eye on for a while. Before she played Gretel here, she was also Strawberry Fields in 2008’s THE QUANTUM OF SOLACE, played Io in 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS (and was one of the few things I liked about that movie), and has been in lots of small indie films like 2010’s TAMARA DREWE. I’m a fan, and she’s always memorable in everything she’s in, and she’s good here as well, even if she joins a long line of hot actresses who have been in action movies that require them to dress in leather and act tough and one-dimensional, including Kate Becksindale in the UNDERWORLD movies and VAN HELSING (2004) and Milla Jovovich in the RESIDENT EVIL movies. But I like HANSEL & GRETEL more than any of those.
While Renner is a respected actor now, he’s still waiting for that breakout role to make him a household name. So is Arterton. Unfortunately, despite their talent, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS isn’t it. But it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.
There’s something about HANSEL & GRETEL that feels like a movie that was on the shelf for a while, and was dusted off when Jeremy Renner started getting some buzz. And it was originally scheduled to be in theaters back in March of 2012.
MA: On the other hand, I was disappointed with Famke Janssen as evil witch Muriel. She spends too much time in the movie as a CGI creation, and I thought she was much more effective without all the CGI effects and makeup.
LS: I’ve always liked Janssen, but yeah, this is a thankless role. But she does as well as she can with it. And you’re right, she’s actually just as effective (if not more so) as a baddie when she’s not in the monster makeup.
MA: My favorite performance in the film, other than Renner’s and Arterton’s, belonged to Pihla Viitala as Mina, the woman who Hansel and Gretel save from being burned as a witch. Turns out, Mina has a secret of her own, and she and Hansel develop a relationship that is one of the more interesting in the film. Viitala is very sexy in this role, and I wished she had been in the movie even more.
LS: Yeah, I want to see more of her. I hope this leads to bigger roles.
(A disgruntled WICCAN emerges from the woods, holding a picket sign that reads “Down With Hansel & Gretel!”)
WICCAN: How dare you give this movie a proper review! After hundreds of years of persecution, the last thing we need is a throwback to the idea of witches as ugly old monsters who eat children. Real witches are nothing like that!
LS: You’re absolutely right. Real witches are nothing like this. But this is a fantasy movie. It’s not supposed to be reality. No one takes it seriously. Just like nobody believes that real-life dwarves have magical powers.
MA: Yeah, it’s just silly horror movie witches. It’s not supposed to be a realistic representation of witches.
WICCAN: Well, it still makes me angry.
LS: That’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinion. Don’t sweat it.
WICCAN: Thanks, I just wanted to say my peace. (leaves)
MA: Shall I continue?
LS: Be my guest.
MA: The rest of the cast is fine. Peter Stormare (who we just saw as an effective villain in last week’s THE LAST STAND) is effective again here as the villainous Sheriff Berringer. As he did in THE LAST STAND, Stormare outshines the main villain in the film, as I found his Sheriff Berringer here to be more dastardly than the bad witch Muriel.
LS: He’s certainly not as much fun to look at as Muriel. But I’ve always like Stormare. He’s been a character actor for a long time, and was great in movies like FARGO (1996), 8MM (1999), and George Romero’s BRUISER (2000), as well as TV shows like PRISON BREAK. He mostly plays bad guys, but he’s good at it.
MA: Derek Mears, as Edward the CGI troll, is also a decent character, but Edward is certainly more of a CGI creation than just an actor giving a strong acting performance.
I also enjoyed the music score by Atli Orvarsson. It’s lively, like the rest of the film.
There was also plenty that I didn’t like about HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. As I already said, the characters of Hansel and Gretel are strictly one-dimensional, and so as much as I enjoyed Renner and Arterton in the roles, I didn’t like either character all that much, and so it’s not like I’d be looking forward to watching more movies about these folks. It’s my hope that this is a one and done deal.
LS: Agreed. This was a case of good actors doing the best with roles that were beneath them. And while I thought this movie was fun, I really don’t think we need any sequels.
MA: I hope not! The same goes for the rest of the characters in this one, with the possible exception of Mina. For a while, you’re not really sure about her, whether she’s good or bad, and I found her a little more interesting than the other characters in this film; of course, it helps that Pihla Vitaala is so damned sexy!
The plot is pretty standard, and didn’t excite me one iota, but since there are some movies out there that don’t even bother to give you a plot, having even an average plot is a good thing. There’s definitely a story here, even if it’s not a very good one.
LS: I think the story was kind of cliché. It really felt like we’d seen stuff like this before, many times before. But the interesting stuff came with the little details. There were things the filmmakers got right. HANSEL & GRETEL is above-average for this kind of thing, but it’s still not a great movie by any stretch.
I agree with you, Michael, that I was dreading going to see this one. I’d seen the trailer like 50 times and felt it pretty much gave away the entire story, and it kind of did. But it surprised me, too. I think the acting transcended the script, and it was a little better written than I was expecting. It also didn’t hurt that this movie tried to earn its R rating. By doing so, it had a little more edge (and flavor) to it than the heap of other, similar movies, that are usually PG-13 and sanitized to the point of pablum.
MA: I appreciated this one’s efforts to be a hard hitting adult fantasy tale, but I wish it had been even more successful. I wish the characters had been developed further and that the evil witch in this one had more to do than what she ultimately does. Then again, in a movie about Hansel and Gretel, maybe that’s too much to ask for.
LS: Probably. But as we’ve said before. Great writing can turn any lackluster idea into something exceptional.
MA: I didn’t love HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS by any means, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and I can’t deny that it’s entertaining in a silly sort of way. Ultimately it’s is a fairly successful bloody gory fantasy.
I give it two and a half knives.
LS: Strangely, I give it the same score. Better than expected. Worth going to see if you want a fun night at the movies. But don’t go in expecting a movie you can really love.
(They come to a clearing and see another house, this time made of pizza and giant kegs of beer. Girls dressed as sexy beer maids beckon them forward)
LS: Now that’s a house that tempts me.
MA: I know we should go the other way, but what the hell.
(They run toward the house)
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ~ two and a half knives!
LL Soares gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS~two and a half knives, as well.