In a radical new twist on the ancient German fairytale, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is big, LOUD and stupid.
Big means this German-American co-production obviously had a significant budget for digital special effects, including the in-your-face 3D tricks. Stupid means the storyline is obviously foolish. LOUD means the movie is played at ear-splitting levels, including in the IMAX 3D theatre I attended. Bring earplugs.
Meanwhile, Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola's English-language action pic also boasts a crude sense of humour. Plus co-star Gemma Arterton as Gretel in sexy, skin-tight leathers for male fans. Plus Jeremy Renner as Hansel posing all manly-man for female fans. Plus lovely supporting player Pihla Viitala in a gratuitous nude scene. Plus a gorefest of death scenes played for grotesque laughs. Like the bad man who gets his small head squashed by the large foot of a good troll named Edward.
These elements make Hansel & Gretel a candidate for cult status. Especially among pubescent boys who figure out how to see this profanity-ridden insanity without mom's permission. Warning to moms: Don't let them do it!
Other than invoking random references, writer-director Wirkoka wastes no time recreating the original fairytale, not as it was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. The fairy tale's morality lesson gives way to a routine horror movie plot about an uber-witch (Famke Janssen) who organizes a coven of her sisters-in-crime.
They kidnap 12 children from a medieval town run by a corrupt sheriff (Peter Stormare) and a good mayor (Rainer Rock). The mewling innocents are needed for a "blood moon" ceremony that will give the witches immunity to death-by-fire, a handy defence given the current popularity of that method of disposal.
Enter orphans Hansel and Gretel, who burned the witch in her own oven in the candy house when they were children. They are now adult bounty hunters dedicated to wiping out the world's witches. It is a big job but H&G have big attitudes, as well as a gattling gun, grenades, multi-arrow crossbows and other anachronistic weapons. Combine that with the leathers and the anti-Grimm humour, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a post-modern "steampunk" movie.
The acting is clumsy and bad, both by the stars and by hordes of German extras (the movie was filmed on location in Germany, including at historic Studio Babelsberg). But I suspect that is a deliberate ploy by Wirkola, whose best-known Norwegian flick is Dead Snow. That 2009 horror movie featured Nazi war zombies terrorizing skiiers on vacation. The absurdist tone of Dead Snow is carried over into Hansel & Gretel, with overwrought actors openly acknowledging the madness unfolding before them. Good dramatic performances would be distracting in a flick so desperate to win cult status.
For an example, check out what Renner and Arterton say separately upon re-visiting the candy house from childhood. Their identical comments generate bawdy laughs. There is no pretense of seriousness. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a bloody and braindead comedy romp -- nothing else.
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