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30 Jan 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Yes Dorothy, only bad witches are ugly!

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Screenplay: Tommy Wirkola, Dante Harper

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arteton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann

After an introductory sequence which establishes the premise of the film (i.e. the titular characters grow up and kill witches for a living) Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters begins with a woman accused of witchcraft and is about to be either hanged, burnt at the stake, or drowned by an angry and frightened local mob out for her blood. Hansel and Gretel crash the show trial and demand her release, explaining earnestly that true witches are so spiritually impure, they are always ugly and deformed monsters. A woman this beautiful and in such good health cannot therefore be an evil witch!

This entire sequence is done without any hint of ironic self-awareness, as though revisionist fairy tales haven't yet been invented, and as if the Pythons hadn't already spoofed mediaeval witch trials in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the 1970s.

The film continues in this vein while delivering the prerequisite levels of gore, evisceration, and decapitation expected from a modern horror fantasy film. Without giving too much of the plot away, Hansel and Gretel have been called in to investigate a record spate of child kidnappings, find themselves involved in a grand conspiracy hatched into motion by a Grand Witch, and end up punching, decapitating, shooting, and beating up various women in between the obligatory exposition and chase scenes.

And just to show how thoroughly offensive and insulting this film is, not only does being an ugly female make you somehow susceptible to being a witch, being female and ugly and born with a physical deformity (like being a conjoined twin or born with congenital quadriplegia) all but confirms your evil. If you're into offensive, insulting, and socially retrogressive films, Hansel and Gretel might actually rock your boat even if it's actually inadvertently and unironically politically incorrect.

The only hints that this film is a modern fantasy horror lie in the amount of F-bombs that Hansel and Gretel drop, and the anachronistic tech they employ. Both approaches are not quite successful. The F-bombs may be an attempt to make the Grimm brothers universe look hip and modern... but only come across unnecessary and excessive. The whole point about anachronistic technology in fantasy horror films is they're employed as a comic punchline: "Look, this steampunk device is the functional analogue of a powerful, modern gadget. But it fails to operate reliably or even at all because it's made of low tech materials put together by ancient tech..." Time and again as Wirkola trots out gadget after gadget, you are reminded that he is perhaps blind to this point.

For a director who made a funny B-grade movie about Nazi zombies, Wirkola seems to forget to inject any humour or self-referential awareness in making a film in a genre where ironic deconstruction, hip politically correct revisionism, and better imaginations prevail. The film has plenty of action, gore, and effects but this is its Achilles heel.

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-02-21 21:55  
to watch this is wasting time... at least not money for me as i got a copy from www.piratebay.se...
for guys that love stupid story, blood and killing without sense it might be great... hansel and gretel with machine-gune and diabetes...
just sick...

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