It’s all fun and games until you enrage a pair of witch hunters.
Strolling up the fake blood-spattered white carpet, past the forest, into the Candy Cave where there just so happened to be real live caged kids, film stars Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, director Tommy Wirkola and producer Kevin Messick regaled the fans and audience alike at the Sydney premiere for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Our international guests introduced the film to us explaining that when you read most fairytales they usually end with a “…and they lived happily ever after” but in the case of Grimm’s fairy tale for ‘Hansel and Gretel’ we’re left hanging. This movie takes the classic story for a bit of a spin to see where those kids ended up years later after their not-so-pleasant run in with a cannibalistic witch.
From the get-go I honestly believe you need to go into this film with an open attitude. For starters, it’s a fantasy film. Yes it’s easy to nit-pick historical inaccuracies, since when did medieval times have giant gatling guns at the ready to mow down a bunch of evil witches? History shows they didn’t but it is all part of the fun, and I stress the word ‘fun’.
Critics have been less forgiving of that ‘fun’ factor than audiences; as box office figures are already showing it ranked #1 after its first weekend in the US despite some less than positive reviews. There are reasons why this film works though, the concept and story are straight-forward. Our two heroes grow up to become badass professional bounty hunters, their targets: witches. They are employed by the town mayor to find a bunch of missing kids believed abducted by said witches. Toss in a handful of adversaries in both human and witch form and there you go. Nice and easy.
Our man behind the camera, director and writer Tommy Wirkola is best known for his horror comedy film Dead Snow and there are threads of that twisted humour in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters which also makes it appealing. Most of the humour revolves around the bloody gore-fest that this movie has in spades, with a high body count and most of those deaths being shown onscreen with no edits. Here’s a tip, the violence is pretty graphic in this film as is the generous use of blood, if you have a weak stomach you may want to avoid it.
As well as the humour, Wirkola is also a grounded director, with minimal budgets and preferring to work in a more real world fashion despite the fantasy plot. There’s little CGI, opting for animatronics and stunts done using harnesses in the physical settings rather than green-screens. The prosthetics and makeup used for the witches give them a sense of texture. Their guttural growling noises and crawling/leaping movements are not too dissimilar to the Orcs of Lord of the Rings. While the puppet/animatronic troll is a nostalgic nod to the monsters of olden day flicks, it’s easy to see the influence of Peter Jackson in Wirkola’s work. As well as the fantastic makeup the steampunk style costuming for all the characters both good and evil looks fabulous and really adds to that contemporary-medieval mash-up.
Our two leads Jeremy Renner (the broody socially awkward and ironically diabetic Hansel) and Gemma Arterton (the complete and utter badass Gretel) manage to flesh out the sibling’s relationship well. Their co-dependent chemistry is tangible and understandable, not just from a psychological point of view as orphans left to fend for themselves; but also a physical standpoint since it’s always better to have somebody watching your back in a fight. The action in this film is relentless, and people may be surprised to learn that the gorgeous and delicate Arterton did a good majority of her own stunts, whilst co-star Renner having filmed this movie roughly the same time as his roles in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and The Avengers was an old-hand at getting into the rough and tumble. The fact that the two leads were happy to beat up and get beaten up also adds to the realism. There are several moments in the film where you will cringe and literally say “owwww” out loud at the mere thought of the injuries sustained.
I think the only thing I would’ve liked more from this film is a stronger score or soundtrack. Maybe it was the 3D or the overload on action but I found myself so immersed in all these other aspects that I don’t distinctly recall or remember feeling moved by the accompanying music.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a crazy fun ride of gory action and if you take it for exactly what it is – not a kids movie but a fairy-tale for adults – you should enjoy it.
Review Score: 7.8 out of 10
This film was reviewed at the Sydney premiere at Event Cinemas George Street on 29th January 2013.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters opens nationally on 7 Feburary 2013.