Hansel and Gretel have become unstuck in time. Not just in the sense that this latest re-imagination of a classic fairy tale has them toting all sorts of high-powered firearms in some centuries-old European landscape backwoods. Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is also a movie that feels out of place, like a forgotten film from a decade ago, reminiscent of the post-Matrix cinematic landscape, where everyone wears leather trenchcoats and fights goofy monsters in slow motion. Think of it as a mix of Van Helsing (2004), Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm and Underworld (2003) and you get the gist.
This dated approach is more peculiar than effective. All off our primary characters — Hansel (Jeremy Renner), his sister Gretel (Gemma Arterton, Tamara Drewe) and the bevvy of witches they battle — look like they’ve been kicked out of some late ‘90s goth industrial band. There’s also the fact that Hansel & Gretel is coming far beyond the tail end of the whole post-modern fairy-tale fad. In this case, we get a grown up Hansel and Gretel, who — after seemingly being abandoned by their parents as children and after killing off a witch who wished to eat them — make their living hunting down witches and executing them in various bloody, splattery ways. When a whole slew of kids come up missing in one town, they’re hired to get to the bottom of it.
Every inch of the film oozes the overbearing need to be “cool,” something director Wirkola (Dead Snow) reminds you with every silly one-liner. No one’s under the impression that Hansel & Gretel should be anything more than dumb fun. This is pure fluff with a paper-thin plot that never slows down, and is thankfully short on filler. As much as the film does wrong, there are certain refreshing aspects to Wirkola’s movie. The production design is a bit uneven, but when Hansel & Gretel gets things right, there’s some imagination on display. Many of the witches who pop up in the movie’s big climax are interestingly designed and reminiscent of Guillermo Del Toro, but the real treat is Edward the troll (Derek Mears, Predators). That the highlight of a film is a man in a giant rubber troll costume probably says more about my feelings about the modern state of CGI-heavy-effects work, but it’s certainly refreshing to see well-conceived creature effects solidly presented onscreen. That the approach is so simple and old-fashioned holds a certain charm.
Unfortunately, this ebb and flow between good and bad, combined with Hansel & Gretel’s already thin script make for a movie that — while perfectly harmless — isn’t very memorable. While I can’t say I minded watching it, I’ll be amazed if it leaves much of a lasting impression.Rated R for strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language.
Playing at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher Cinema 7