RogerBW's Blog

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters 25 April 2019

2013 action-horror, dir. Tommy Wirkola, Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton; IMDb / allmovie. After they escaped from the witch, Hansel and Gretel set up as witch-hunters for pay.

This is clearly not a film that anyone intends to be taken seriously. Visually, it's set in a Warhammer-esque world that's supposedly early Renaissance Germany but has gramophones, hand-cranked tasers, belt-fed rotary cannon, and of course tight leather trousers to show off Arterton's backside; people who didn't get on with the deliberately dissonant modernism of an "historical" piece like Plunkett & Macleane probably won't like this either. Gretel gets a double repeating crossbow and multi-barrelled pistols; Hansel carries a huge rifle (and could really use some training in weapon retention, because it seems to get dropped every time there's a fight).

In style, it's all about being able to pull that technology out of nowhere, and the kinetic fights. This is the sort of film where it's entirely clear that the film-makers are in on the joke, and my enjoyment at least rests on the joke being funny.

Which it mostly is. Where it falls apart is in its treatment of the witches: there's no attempt to limit their powers, so they can do whatever the plot needs them to do, until it's time for them to be defeated. (Obviously there's no consideration at all of why women were accused of witchcraft in the real world.) So stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, but the whole thing is blatantly on the scriptwriter's rails rather than having events flowing logically from one scene to the next. The plot is straightforward and nobody will be greatly surprised by its minor twists, particularly by a moment of pathos that would be more effective if it weren't both utterly predictable and placed in a very brief break between action scenes.

The fights which it's the main purpose of the film to deliver are fast-moving, but shot so choppily that one rarely gets any sense of connection. There's this move, and then there's that move, but even when one can work out what's going on nobody manages to turn having the upper hand into a victory; instead, it's all about the dramatic reversals, and the best way to win a fight in this world seems to be to let your enemy throw you around the room. There are some very pleasing grotesqueries at the Witches' Sabbath, but most of them are shot to pieces so fast that we don't get a good look at them.

In spite of all that I was able to enjoy the thing on a basic level; there's a tiny bit of inventiveness here that probably managed to sneak through the focus-groups and interference from accountants that dogs most big-budget films. It's certainly not a good film; but when it remembers to keep moving it's not entirely terrible.

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