Jeremy Renner as Hansel
Gemma Arterton as Gretel
Famke Janssen as Muriel
Peter Sormare as Sheriff Berringer
Pihla Viitala as Mina
Thomas Mann as Ben
Derek Mears as Edward
Rainer Bock as Mayor Engleman
Monique Ganderton as Candy Witch
Ingred Bolso Berdal as Horned Witch
Zoe Bell as Tall Witch
Joanna Kulig as Redhead Witch
Thomas Scharff as Hansel and Gretel’s Father
Kathrin Kuhnel as Adrianna
In our post-modern world how could you not look at classic children’s stories and wonder what would happen to those people after the fact? How do those impressionable little kids handle almost getting eaten by giants, or force-fed candy by witches. Would Hansel become diabetic as a result? Would he and Gretel be irretrievably scarred by their ordeal, leading lives of paranoia and mild PTSD? Or would they become caustic, leather clad hunters of the unnatural?
Well wonder no longer as writer-director Tommy Wirkola (“Dead Snow”) has thought up the answer for us, and it’s the second one.
Realizing that watching child Hansel and Gretel going around killing witches might be strange and somewhat off-putting, we meet the brother/sister duo many years later as the grown up and much more attractive Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. Bitter, jaded and with somewhat raspy American accents, all the years of hunting witches and trolls and the like have turned young Hansel and Gretel into stereotypical action heroes, saving the world while simultaneously looking down on it for not being able to save itself.
But it turns out that’s just what the people of Augsburg need as a plague of witches has descended on the town over the previous few months, stealing the town’s children for some nefarious purpose. In desperation, the Mayor has hired our terrible twosome to come put a stop to the horror and potentially face the demons of their own past as well.
And if that all sounds incredibly ridiculous to you, you can relax, because it plainly sounds ridiculous to Wirkola as well.
Playing his film with a constant wink and nod even in the midst of insane action sequences and blood-drenched scenery, Wirkola spends “Hansel & Gretel’s” brief running time balanced on a knife’s edge of tone. And juggling flaming chainsaws while doing it. One slip and he’s doomed.
Fortunately for him, and us, he never falls although he does frequently stumble quite badly. There is plainly a lot of love to be had here for the best of gonzo horror comedy of the ’80s, particularly Sam Raimi’s seminal “Evil Dead” films. And if that was the film they actually made, “Hansel & Gretel” would probably succeed far better than it does.
The problem is no one seems to be quite on the same page at the same time, except Renner, who is perfectly willing to poke holes in his action hero image, particularly when it comes to dealing with a young villager (Pihla Viitala) who is infatuated with him.
By comparison, Arterton is extremely stiff, all straightforwardness and no irony. It doesn’t help that her most interesting relationship is the sibling one with Hansel, which the plot constantly tries to disrupt in order to send them off to different places. It really only works when they are together, which is not as often as it should be.
That said, “Hansel & Gretel” is far more enjoyable than it seems like it should be as Wirkola and his film revel in their joint goofiness, from the milk bottles with etched children’s pictures to the dark ages Gatling Gun and the various extremely well done gore gags. Wirkola refuses to pull any punches for our PG-13 adjusted eyes and it is very welcome.
Yeah, it’s not as clever as it could be and you’ll probably never have the urge to watch “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” again, but you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time either.