Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Fantasy Horror Violence and Gore, brief Sexuality/Nudity and Language
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Written by: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare & Derek Mears
When a new spin is put on timeless fairy tales, it’s usually geared for family audiences or teenagers. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is quite a different story! This is a hugely entertaining, gory, and R-rated take on a classic children’s story. Tommy Wirkola burst onto the filmmaking scene with the Nazi zombie horror-comedy DEAD SNOW. That film was a victim of being far too derivative and forced, but Wirkola has since shown significant growth in his writing and directing abilities. While it’s far from perfect (actually suffering from a reversal of a problem in DEAD SNOW), HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is more than serviceable entertainment for guys and gals who want a bloody action-packed fantasy that never takes itself too seriously.
The movie begins like the original fairy tale with young Hansel and Gretel being abandoned by their father in a shadowy forest. The siblings are wandering lost in the woods and stumble upon a cottage made of candy. They are taken prisoner by a menacing witch and manage to slay the old hag. The film then cuts to a grown Hansel and Gretel who have gained a reputation as witch hunters for hire. The siblings are hired to investigate a series of child disappearances in the small town of Augsburg. These mysterious missing kids may have something to do with a grand plan at work that involves black magic, old secrets and more than a few bloodthirsty witches for the sibling duo to take down.
HANSEL & GRETEL is a ton of fun. It’s not meant to be high art and more than succeeds at being a B-movie blast of over-the-top violence, impressive effects and a clever story. I enjoyed the hell out of this flick! Besides reveling in the campy nature of its silly premise, the story is actually really creative (albeit predictable in areas). Tommy Wirkola brings a lot of imagination to the table. This is boosted by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the titular heroes. Peter Stormare briefly pops up as the town’s corrupt Sheriff and Famke Janssen is excellent in the role of the main villainess. Plenty of cool action scenes abound as well, most of which get downright messy with gore.
WITCH HUNTERS is a massive improvement over DEAD SNOW, but Tommy Wirkola makes a mistake that’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from his 2009 Nazi zombie flick. DEAD SNOW took far too long to get into its crazy action and overstayed its welcome by a solid 20 minutes. HANSEL & GRETEL launches right into its insane ideas (not a bad thing), but comes off as way too rushed by the end. Running at under 90 minutes (credits included), HANSEL & GRETEL feels like it was a half fleshed-out feature. There’s a lot of imagination at work, but there could have been significantly more time spent in developing ideas and certain plot points fully. It almost sounds like an odd thing to complain about, but WITCH HUNTERS is about 20 minutes too short.
Apparently, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS has received a bit of a cult following behind it (deservedly so) and there’s supposedly a sequel on the horizon. I wouldn’t mind seeing a second installment in this potential gory fairy tale franchise. This is actually a case where the sequel might be able to out-do the already solid original on every possible level, providing more time is spent on another creative screenplay that’s packed full of cool action scenes and goofy humor. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is a nice step above Wirkola’s previous horror-comedy effort aided by lots of humor, a clever story, well-shot action scenes, awesome effects, and likable characters. This is a most unusual and pleasant surprise.