A lot of the time, movies aren’t meant to be artistic or culturally significant. Hell, most of the time they’re not even supposed to be that good. However, once in a long while, movies can be so bad they’re good, or in the case of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, so awful they’re awesome.
I have to admit, going into this film I was a little worried that I would be in store for another Van Helsing (the 2004 Hugh Jackman, well, thing), and in a way I was. It’s a rushed film with minimal character development and plot holes you can drive a truck through. However, it’s also full of intense action sequences, it features brilliant production design and it has more than enough blood to validate its R rating.
Besides, I don’t think anyone is walking into this film expecting an introspective drama exploring the lives of two siblings following a childhood trauma.
I’m certainly not trying to defend the terrible parts of this film; there really is no defense. But it seems to be well aware of what it is: a flick featuring Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner decked out in leather and shooting ridiculously big guns at monsters. The witches themselves all have really unique looks, and director/co-writer Tommy Wirkola (whom you might remember as the guy who brought us a movie about Nazi zombies) even throws in some subtle references to classic witches from works like The Bride with White Hair. These details actually make this a movie that’s pretty easy to get in to. Plus, the fight scenes between the siblings and the various monsters are well done and feature a surprising amount of creativity.
For the most part, Arterton and Renner’s hunting expeditions are just that: chasing down witches through the woods. After all, as Renner so elegantly states, “My sister and I have a history,” and that history is pretty well-known among the witch community.
The movie’s biggest problem is that it’s so rushed. It could have used an extra 20 minutes of exposition to help the audiences become invested in the characters and break up the action. Hell, even add a bit of mystery and suspense to it.
What audiences get instead is little more than Renner and Arterton going by the names Hansel and Gretel. It’s not the worst thing ever, but you’d think the filmmakers would try to make them a little more unique. Their names are featured in the movie’s title, after all. While this certainly does bug me, I’m not pompous enough to write off a film for having a weak script, especially when it’s clearly meant to be pure spectacle. This is a movie about cutting witches’ heads off; that’s what it focuses on, and that’s where it shines.
The film’s true strengths lie in its art direction, makeup and costume design. Sure, it feels very Van Helsing, and it’s as far as you can get from historically accurate, but it’s based on a fairytale and successfully creates that feeling in the world the characters inhabit. The village is quaint with colorful townsfolk (especially the sheriff, played by Peter Stormare), and the weapons the duo wields are simply absurd. Renner’s weapon of choice appears to be some sort of bloated shotgun, and Arterton prefers her double-barrel crossbow.
Like I said before, Hansel & Gretel is so awful that it’s awesome. If you’re just looking for a fun night out in theaters, go for it. As long as you don’t expect this to be the biggest and best film of the year – because it’s not meant to be – you’ll walk out happy. Instead, just expect a movie that you can watch to escape from your worries for an hour and a half. It’s full of dark humor, gratuitous violence and plenty of stuff flying at your face, making it potentially worth the extra few bucks for the 3D glasses, especially if you’re part of its target audience (and you’ll definitely know if you are). It’s a great little bad movie I wouldn’t mind seeing again in the future.