Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) is a spin on the classic Grimms’ fairy tale that most people first heard as children. But you probably won’t recognize it as the story you grew up with. It begins like the classic tale, with a little boy and little girl left in the woods by their father, where they come upon a gingerbread house covered in candy that turns out to be inhabited by a witch. The witch plans to eat the two kids, but they trap her in an oven where she burns to death.
But in this version, the kids grow up to be Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), famous orphan witch hunters. With their unique immunity to dark magic, they travel the world fighting witches wherever they may appear. It’s a refreshingly outlandish concept, but unfortunately, the kooky title and premise of this movie end up being the most entertaining aspects of it.
As the story proper begins, the adult Hansel and Gretel are initially hired by the mayor of a small town where a lot of children have gone missing. And in an slightly funny anachronism, we see “missing children” drawings tied around bottles of milk.
Upon entering the town, the two hunters quickly locate a couple of witches and take them down without much effort. After interrogating the witches, they piece together what happened to all the kids. The main witch Muriel (Famke Janssen, under a lot of prosthetics) needs twelve children to perform a “Blood Moon” ritual that will make her and all her fellow witches invincible. They have six boys and five girls, and they need one more girl for the ritual, and Hansel soon figures out which child will be taken next.
Unfortunately, the duo are a bit too slow in getting to her, and lose a huge battle against the witches, who claim their final child. Hansel and Gretel both end up knocked unconscious during the fight, and wake up in random parts of the forest being attended to by a couple of love interests and/or creepy stalkers.
Gretel then gets captured by the local sheriff (Peter Stormare), who blames her for bringing the witches upon them. Luckily, a giant troll (previously seen working for Muriel) witnesses them beating her up and saves her from the band of villains by graphically crushing their heads with his fists and feet.
When Gretel asks the troll why he saved her, he answers with the cryptic “Trolls serve witches,” and takes off, though not before informing her that his name is “Edward”. This encounter starts the wheels spinning in Gretel’s head just in time for her and Hansel to be reunited.
It appears that not only did they find each other simply by wandering around aimlessly, they also happen to have wandered into the house they grew up in. Just as Gretel’s memories come back, Muriel appears and finally explains the full story of what happened to their parents.
It seems their mother was (spoiler!) a witch, but in her case, she was a “white witch”, AKA, a good one. Their father got word the townspeople were coming for his wife, so he hid Hansel and Gretel in the forest to protect them. Unfortunately, their mother ended up burned at the stake, and their father was hung from a tree.
So basically, Gretel is a witch, and this is why the two of them have always been immune to witches’ spells. The siblings are completely caught off-guard by this news, allowing the witch to capture Gretel, intending to use her heart to make her Blood Moon ritual complete.
Hansel rushes to rescue his sister and stop the ritual. He has another white witch to aid him, and Edward the troll also joins up with them. The white witch “blesses” a big stash of guns so they can penetrate the dark witches’ defenses, and a heavy artillery battle ensues.
Hansel manages to free all the missing children and save his sister. However, Muriel escapes and the duo chase after her, which just happens to lead them back to the gingerbread house where they destroyed their first witch. As expected, they have a big final battle with Muriel where they defeat her, decapitate her with a shovel, and now the siblings and their new friends head off for other adventures, the end.
Going by the original fairy tale, one assumes the movie takes place in 18th Century Germany, or at least in the general vicinity. But here, all the characters have American accents and speak in modern-day English. While the anachronistic nature of the story is used for a couple of sight gags (the aforementioned milk bottles, or the wind-up defibrillator pads that get used at one point), it mostly just seems like the product of laziness, and the filmmakers not really caring enough to do any research about the time period.
But obviously, no one goes to a movie called Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters looking for historical accuracy, and I’m guessing the sight of a good witch blasting away at bad witches with a magical Gatling gun is just the kind of thing most of the audience showed up to see.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to the fun promised by the title or the premise. It actually drags quite a bit, which is amazing, considering it’s only 88 minutes long. A lot of pointless stuff happens in between the action scenes, and the fights themselves are too murky and full of quick-cuts to be exciting. And considering how much crucial exposition was left out, they probably slashed the original cut of this film to pieces in an attempt to pick up the pace.
There are a number of times when characters simply appear or wake up somewhere, with no explanation for how they got there. At the Blood Moon ritual, a whole host of monstrous witches (created with elaborate, expensive makeup effects) pop out of the woodwork one by one with no introduction, only to be bloodily murdered five seconds later. (And it’s cool that they came up with a variety of different looks here, but the sum effect of this is that absolutely none of the witches look like they belong in the same world.)
Also, the prologue makes it seem like young Hansel and Gretel came upon the witch’s house and killed her all of twenty minutes later, even though the rest of the movie would suggest they were there for years. The adult Hansel constantly gives himself injections, saying that all the candy the witch fed him made him “sick”, and he needs an injection every few hours or else he’ll die. The implication being that he’s diabetic, and the injections are insulin. However, very little is made of this, and most of the time he does just fine without the shot, especially during those many occasions where he gets himself knocked unconscious for hours on end. And yet, during the final fight, when he doesn’t instantly have the shot in hand, he’s ready to die after only a few seconds.
Hansel & Gretel is yet another entry in the “grown up fairy tale” genre, like The Brothers Grimm or all the various revisionist takes on Snow White. But in this case, there’s a multitude of F-bombs and partial nudity and exploding heads, and it feels a lot like the filmmakers trying way too hard to make this thing “adult”. Yes, it’s a children’s story updated for grown-ups—We got it.
The story of Hansel and Gretel was originally told to teach kids morals and to keep them from running away from home. But in this case, the moral of the story seems to be that it takes more than a funny, attention-grabbing title to make a worthwhile action film.