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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Reviewed by Charlotte Stevens.

Director Tommy Wirkola
Length 88 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article Trailer

"Hansel and Gretel" is a well-known Grimm fairy tale. Two children are abandoned in a forest by their parents, where a candy-laden, house-shaped trap delivers them into the clutches of a cannibalistic witch. Hansel is caged and force-fed while Gretel becomes the witch’s indentured servant until she finds the chance to push the witch into her own oven. Gretel releases her brother and the children escape, leaving the witch to burn to death. In some versions of the story, they return home, having helped themselves to the witch’s treasure. As a fairy tale, the moral of this story can be tweaked through elaborations and variations: a tragic tale of economic necessity, of an evil (step-)mother or unfeeling father, of two prepubescent vandals harassing a poor old lady living alone in the woods.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t care to speculate about that sort of character depth or narrative realism. The film catches up with Hansel and Gretel in their adult lives (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), having turned their early witch-roasting success into a career as supernatural bounty hunters. Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola, best known for his 2009 Nazi-zombie horror flick Dead Snow, ensures this film earns its 15 certificate for gore. However, it maintains a comic-book sensibility, meaning the effects are never in danger of becoming too gritty or realistic. Cinematographer Michael Bonvillain (Cloverfield, Lost, Alias) makes the most of his German forest locations and a village set no doubt inspired by the Universal Frankenstein films. Clever props and costumes round out the world-building. This is a movie aware of its genre heritage, but it doesn’t get weighed down in gothic affectation.

Hansel and Gretel is unusual, comfortably offering spectacle and entertainment without apology or pretension. Even less usual is to have such a high proportion of women with speaking roles in a genre action film; for that alone I recommend seeing it. Another point of approval comes from its running time: at a lean 88 minutes it’s a nice antidote to the recent trend of self-important 150-minute epics. It never feels too short or perfunctory, as its plot is more an excuse for playful anachronistic world-building than a platform for posing grand philosophical questions. As a fairy tale, it offers a simple narrative, shies away from moral ambiguity, and doesn’t challenge its audience.

Though Famke Janssen is somewhat disappointing as the film’s villain, Hansel and Gretel succeeds as a fantasy-action film due to the charisma of its two leads, who showcase an ability to take a punch and balance stunts with slapstick. Both Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton inhabit a relaxed, almost laconic Harrison Fordish quality in their approach to acting action; while Gretel is the brains of the partnership and Hansel is happier having a pint, there’s a definite parity between female and male leads. Gretel is arguably the main character, but Hansel is more than her sidekick. A strength of the film is to present these characters as equals; for example, both rescue and need rescuing.

Understandably, the film’s trailer skips showing quieter scenes between the siblings. Despite being a fantasy-action spectacle, there are still moments that let Arterton show off her RADA training (and credible American accent) and Renner the subtleties in performance that earned him his two Oscar nominations.

For anyone feeling like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods of awards-season fatigue, I recommend taking a nibble of this cinematic candy.

Alternate Take to follow soon...

This review was published on March 02, 2013.

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