Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

I must admit that when I first started hearing about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters I had some moderately high hopes. You see, there’s a type of movie that I would rather enjoy: the popcorn flick. You know the type; it’s a bit ridiculous, with lots of one-liners and actors having fun. We’re not talking about high art here; we’re talking about fun. Fun at the movies.

We’re talking about the type of movie where you sit down, turn your brain off and enjoy the ride. I was disappointed by a couple of films that promised to be this last year. So, how are we doing with the first big effort this year? Actually, pretty good!

Director Tommy Wirkola’s resume isn’t that long, but he’s best known for the horror comedy Dead Snow, a horror-comedy film released a few years back about a group of kids being terrorized by Nazi zombies. Thinking about that movie now, it feels like a dry run leading up to this. Where that movie faltered mixing up the horror and comedy, this movie has a pretty good mix of action and comedy plus a healthy dose of blood and guts and gore to round things out.

The story is fairly basic. Hansel and Gretel survive the childhood ordeal slightly differently than you remember it from the fairy tale and end up orphan witch hunters who come to a town with a bunch of kids gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Much anachronistic badassery ensues.

There’s not anything here you haven’t seen before, though and at just over 90 minutes long, there isn’t really time for anything you haven’t seen before, either. This movie is short and to the point; what little back story we need is given in a brief prologue and then the beautifully animated credits, and then we jump right into the story.

This is actually one of the film’s major strengths. Previous fairy tale re-imaginings I’ve seen that try to make sure you know they’re serious films end up boring. This movie doesn’t want you to be anything other than entertained, so the plot is kept to a minimum and the action to a maximum, and despite its predictability, it works. When things are revealed, you’re not going to be surprised, but you’ll probably be too busy enjoying a well-staged fight, some well-executed gore, or a zingy one-liner to care.

Speaking of action and gore, there’s a nice blend of practical and digital effects at play, too. Some things are obviously CG, but there’s one big practical effect that I loved. The film is rife with anachronism as well; seemingly set in the early 1800s, but the weapons in Hansel and Gretel’s arsenal appear to be from anywhere from the 1860s to the 1920s, and everyone speaks in a thoroughly modern mode of speech.

I’m sure a lot of these elements are going to wear thin pretty quickly for some. Chalk it up to the film’s short running time that they did not for me.

The film stars do pretty well with what they’re given. Jeremy Renner might be phoning it in, but Jeremy Renner phoning it in is still pretty good. Gemma Arterton plays the whole thing as an over-the-top ass-kicker and gets some great one-liners in, and while Famke Janssen isn’t amazing, her character is such a one-dimensional bad guy that it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that it seems like everyone involved is in on the joke, and as such it feels like everyone involved is having a blast making the movie.

Despite being a little repetitive, and a little derivative, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a solid B-movie, delivering action and effects and, where it needs to, performances. It’s not high art, but it is a good time at the movies.