Film Review: The only moral in this tale — don’t be a witch

Film Review: The only moral in this tale — don’t be a witch
Gemma Arterton is Gretel and Jeremy Renner is Hansel in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” Photo by David Appleby

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” offers plenty in the way of a ridiculous fun time with its bloody action, energetic visuals and dark humor, though the end result could’ve been much tighter with improvements to its characterizations and narrative. 

Many people have read or, at the very least, heard of the famous “Hansel and Gretel” fairytale. Whether you learned about it from your parents or discovered it on your own, the story is a valuable tale that has continued to be passed down from generation to generation.

But just how valuable is this fairytale’s “what-if” aftermath, where bullets, blood, vulgarities, and witchcraft rule supreme? Well, from what I’ve seen, the film embraces its outlandish concept without shame, but its reliance on face value will only click with those who love the smell of B-movies in the morning.

Following their abandonment by their parents and their encounter with a witch in a gingerbread house, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) become bounty hunters devoted to the extermination of witches.

When the mayor of Augsburg hires them to find and rescue several children that have gone missing due to witch attacks, the siblings get more than they bargained for. As the witches’ fabled Blood Moon ceremony approaches, Hansel and Gretel come across an evil figure (Famke Janssen) who might know something about their past.

Director Tommy Wirkola has no shame in embracing the goofy nature of this R-rated gorefest. As much as he knows the film is ridiculous, he figures that since this is a B-movie to begin with, there isn’t really anything to be embarrassed about.

Wirkola shows no bounds when it comes to creating aggressive visuals; there is not a moment where you don’t see body parts flying, witches soaring on broomsticks and our titular protagonists shooting up the place. Viewing the action sequences in 3D enhances the atmospheric energy that already comes from the glee we feel at the sight of seeing Hansel and Gretel declaring open season on the witches.

Laughs emerge in the form of foul language and corny dialogue. The witches’ devilish makeup is quite a sight to behold, yet how they perish at the hands of our two leads is rather funny.

Add that to a generous dose of nonstop action, as well as a village beauty (Pihla Viitala) showcasing her birthday suit, and there’s your square meal for R-rated popcorn entertainment.

While this revisionist take on the classic fairytale may satisfy the primal urges of some moviegoers, it won’t appeal to the more serious-minded audience members.

The characters serve one of two purposes: they are either meat bags or warriors.

If you’re the kind of person whose eyes can’t help but probe for something deeper, save your money for a different movie ticket.

I do wish the story had been granted more time to develop; I blame the film’s 88 minute running time for this problem.

Sure, I get this is designed to be entertainment, but the least that Wirkola could’ve done was include an expansion or two to give B-movie lovers even more to crave.

Jeremy Renner keeps getting better and better at handling these action-oriented roles each time he joins a project. I can’t say for sure whether this Oscar nominee’s involvement should cast doubts on his career choices, but as long as he’s hitting his targets where they bleed, such concerns are trivial.

Gemma Arterton is just as proficient at slaying her opponents as her male co-lead, relishing every opportunity she gets to prove her point with a crossbow. She carries herself with a confident poise whenever she’s called onto the big screen. And the sibling chemistry between the two works on a simple level.

Expect “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” to delight those looking for an excuse to turn off their brains for the sake of enjoying an unpretentious B-movie of visceral glory. Anyone who cannot tolerate the idea of something they deem superficial ought to stay at home for the time being to avoid being cursed.

MPAA Rating: R

Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes

Playing: General release


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