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Here are the things I learned from “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”. Good witches are pretty, nice, and will have sex with you in a magical pond. Bad witches look like they’re into black metal, dress poorly, and give you diabetes. So, if nothing else, you’ll walk away with a couple of important life lessons under your belt. Those are the most important things to know about “Hansel & Gretel”, and as you’ve probably gathered, it’s utterly ridiculous. It’s also way more fun than an oft-delayed pseudo-horror film buried in the end of January has any right to be.
When you consider that writer/director Tommy Wirkola is most known for his Nazi-zombie-frozen-tundra horror flick “Dead Snow”, the ludicrous nature makes a certain amount of sense. You don’t want to look for logic here, and you’re better off not asking a lot of questions, you just might fall into a deep dark hole from which there is no escape. This is a goofy B-movie, they know it, and is best compared to a roller coaster. You climb on board, strap in, and let it take you for a bloody, ridiculous ride.
You know the basics of the story. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are siblings. Their parents abandon them in the wilderness. They stumble upon a house made of candy. A witch lives in the house. She fattens them up to eat them. They burn her. This encounter, much like the movie, taught the pair two things. First, never walk into the house made of candy (that’s the cause of Hansel’s diabetes—good thing they have no problem procuring insulin injections on a regular basis), and when dealing with a witch it’s best to set her ass on fire. Fast forward a few years, and the duo have become celebrity witch hunters, travelling the countryside, kicking the crap out of all types of witches—swamp witches, meadow witches, green-eyed witches, you get the point.
One of the first things you’ll notice about “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is the olde timey German setting. You’ll also immediately realize that little else about the movie matches the surroundings. No one bothers to attempt period appropriate dialogue, and the script is littered with profanity, modern turns of phrase, and you half expect there to be a “Star Wars” or Kardashian reference. And then there are the weapons. Some look like leftovers from “Van Helsing”—suped up crossbows and the like—but they also make frequent use of repeating rifles, revolvers, machine guns, and hand grenades. Yes, witch hunting hand grenades. Didn’t know that was a thing, did you?
Renner’s Hansel is a reactionary hothead who pursues witches with the fervor of a genocidal madman. He says things like, “If I had a face like that, I’d be angry, too,” and “We hunt witches for a living, so what’s normal?” His sister, on the other hand, has more of an even keel. Where her brother barges in guns blazing (seriously, they have a Gatling gun!), she actually requires some sort of proof before dispatching some poor sucker. Luckily it’s pretty easy to spot a witch, they all look like witches. Except, of course, the good witches, but you don’t want to kill them anyway. Remember, they’ll have sex with you in a swimming hole. Of course, there has to be more to the pair’s story than meets the eye, but not much.
While this description makes “Hansel & Gretel” sound terrifically painful, the utter absurdity carries the day. There are some groan inducing lines, and in the few—and I mean few—moments when the movie pretends to be serious, the pace drops like a guy on LSD who thinks he has wings. Fortunately there aren’t many of these instances. At its best, “Witch Hunters” wallows in an almost “Army of Darkness” level of inspired lunacy. The witch slayers have an overeager super fan/stalker, a troll friend named Edward, and the scene where a man explodes in a tavern is priceless. Peter Stormare and Famke Janssen chew every bit of scenery they come across—as a d-bag sheriff and the evilest witch, respectively—Gretel bites off a guy’s nose, and there’s even enough giddy blood splatter to almost make the 3D conversion worth it.
You’ll laugh all the way through most of the movie, and when your friends ask you about it the next day, your first response will be, “that was fucking awesome.” Not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination—call it a guilty pleasure if you must—but “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is the best kind of big, dumb, stupid fun. After all, the title is “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”, what did you think you were walking into? This is about as much fun as you’ll have at any movie in the month of January. If you can sneak a flask into the theater, maybe some good German beer, it will only serve to enhance your viewing experience.
Tommy Wirkola (writer/director)
CAST: Jeremy Renner…Hansel