Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Directed by Tommy Wirkola Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare Paramount Pictures Rated R | 88 Minutes Release Date: January 25, 2013
Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola first gained the attention of Hollywood with his 2007 film, Kill Buljo, a parody of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
Since then, Wirkola has released a pair of low-budget horror comedies with 2009’s Dead Snow, a film about Nazi Zombies in the mountains of Norway, and 2010’s Kurt Josef Wagle And The Legend of the Fjord Witch, a send-up of first-person found-footage movies that combines elements of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and [●REC].
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is Wirkola’s first big-budget American film, an R-rated fantasy comedy produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. The film picks up with Hansel (Jeremy Renner, The Avengers) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) years after that traumatic incident involving a witch, some bread crumbs, and a gingerbread house.
The brother-sister duo has since grown into bad-ass monster hunters dedicated to exterminating witches and the would-be devourers of children. Hansel and Gretel are recruited by Mayor Engleman (Rainer Bock) to rid the village of Augsburg, Germany of an evil sorceress, Muriel (Famke Janssen, Taken 2), who Don Henley would surely describe as a “Witchy Woman.”
Muriel and a gaggle of nasty, wicked hags plan to sacrifice the children of Augsburg during the ‘Blood Moon’ – a ritual that is only days away. To complicate things, Hansel and Gretel must also contend with Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), an overbearing man who has taken power in Augsburg and conducts a witch-hunt of his own.
In the spirit of films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Snow White: A Tale of Terror, and Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is an fantasy-fueled action horror hybrid that puts a new twist on classic stories and characters.
The interesting thing about Wirkola’s film is how it distances itself from failures like Van Helsing and Your Highness and presents an entertaining comedy that feels like the bastard child of The Princess Bride and The Evil Dead.
It’s not my intention to put Witch Hunters on the same level as two classic ’80s films, but it’s obviously influenced by Sam Raimi’s signature splat-stick and the kinds of low-budget fantasy films that died off in the ’80s. It’s encouraging to see a movie like this commit to an R-rating and deliver some genuine blood and guts and tongue-in-cheek humor without pandering to a PG-13 audience just to sell more tickets.
Now, is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters a cinematic triumph? Is it destined for a Criterion Collection release? No – it’s an absolutely absurd fantasy farce with ambitions solely to entertain. This isn’t high art – but it is a fun escape for 88 minutes, with impressive production design and creature effects.
Jeremy Renner does a serviceable job while Gemma Arterton’s Gretel is a stand-alone character in her own right. It’s refreshing to see a female character in a film like this who isn’t a damsel in distress or somebody’s girlfriend. Famke Janssen is particularly vile and heinous as the raven-haired Muriel, who is what you might imagine her Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix character from X-Men becomes after watching a season of Once Upon a Time.
I went in to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters expecting the worst: Van Helsing + The Brothers Grimm, but as soon as I saw Adam McKay’s and Will Ferrell’s names attached, I knew this movie was going to be a very self-aware comedy and not take itself too seriously. When a grown-up Gretel stumbles upon a gingerbread house in the forest, she delivers a dead-pan “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me…” before getting in a WWE-style brawl with a witch. What’s not to love!?
It’s hilarious and preposterous and, most importantly, it’s fun. The only thing missing from Wirkola’s horror-fantasy send-up is Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” assaulting our ear drums as brother and sister blast and burn their way through the witches. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a fun, no strings attached cinematic fling for those looking for a bloody good time.