This year looks to be the year of the re-imagined Fairytales, and first out of the gate is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. This “what if” treatment of the Grimm fairytale was surprisingly entertaining. True, it will never win any major film awards, nor does it try to have some deep-seated meaning to the tale. This is just some good old-fashioned, fun filmmaking.
The film starts with a brief overview of the story we all grew up with, except there are a few minor tweaks to the story. While it is true that Hansel and Gretel are taken into the woods by their father, it is not at the request of an evil stepmother. Instead it is their mother who asks their father to take them into the forest to keep them safe. Since there is no trail of breadcrumbs or stones to find their way home, Hansel and Gretel end up stumbling across the infamous gingerbread house. Up to this point, the story is treading on familiar ground. It is only after they kill the witch, does the story take off on its own path.
Hansel and Gretel return to their home to find it abandoned. It seems their parents had left them, so they were effectively orphans. In order to survive, they turn to the lucrative carreer of witch hunting. They had become sort of celebrities after surviving their childhood incident and now take it on themselves to rid the world of every last witch.
Here is where the real plot begins, for Hansel and Gretel are requested to come to a village that has been under siege from a witch. When they arrive at the village, they are just in time to save a beautiful and unearthly young woman named Mina from being tried and executed for being a witch. The sexual chemistry between Mina and Hansel is evident from the get go, and I knew that she was not at all that she seemed. Her true nature was heavily hinted at in such an unsubtle way that if you didn’t realise what she was, then you must have fallen asleep.
Anyway, I digress slightly. Back to the plot and it really is just about Hansel and Gretel hunting down the witch that has been kidnapping children from the village. The reasons behind these kidnappings are unclear, and both Hansel and Gretel are sent on a wild goose chase. When they do confront the witches, a peculiar phenomenon happens. It gives a rather different spin on why Hansel and Gretel where able to escape. It also means that Muriel, the Grand High witch (My mind instantly went to Angelica Huston in the movie The Witches) wants Gretel to complete a ritual that can only take place on a certain day (Something makes me want to say winter solstice but I don’t think it is).
To cut to the chase, Muriel, played by Famke Janssen, manages to capture Gretel and is about to kill her and the children in order to get “ULTIMATE COSMIC POWER”, whereby fire will not kill them (Fire and beheading are the only ways in which to really kill a witch). Hansel has to go and save Gretel, but not before hopping on the good foot and doing the bad thing with Mina. It just so happens that this takes place in some magical healing waters (Woo hoo! Shirtless Jeremy Renner!).
The climax to the film is a big battle between a coven of different mutations of witches against Hansel, Gretel and Mina. You know which side is going to win, along with who will not make it out alive at the other side of the battle. As you can tell, it is pretty predictable and you are all probably wondering why I gave it such a high mark when most of the points I’ve made above are normally negatives. The reason is that the film just isn’t trying to take itself too seriously. It is just a fun film with some action, romance and a very gothic feel.
My only gripe is the forced “sexual chemistry” between Hansel and Mina. It runs pretty flat at times, with Mina acting all damsel in distress while throwing the biggest hints that she is not just a pretty face and “not all witches are evil”. To be honest, the slightly uncomfortable closeness between Hansel and Gretel was much more interesting and could have been taken advantage of with one little tweak. By having Gretel not be blood related to Hansel, it would have added a completely different slant to the film. This could be my wishful thinking due to the fact I rather liked the rapport that Renner and Arterton had playing the witch hunting siblings. True, I’m not the biggest fan of Gemma Arterton, but it seemed like she was having fun on the film and this was reflected in her performance.
For a steampunky gothic action flick in the vein of Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman, this is a pretty decent film. As I said at the start, it is not trying to be deep. This is an ideal film to watch on a dreary night in when you want to just chill out.
RATING: 4 Stars
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
DIRECTOR: Tommy Wirkola
STARRING: Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen
GENRE: Horror, Fantasy, Fairytale