30 March 2013

Movie Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters




Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 
2013, 88mins, 15 
Director: Tommy Wirkola 
Writer: Tommy Wirkola 
Cast includes: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann 
UK Release Date: 27th February 2013 

The only pleasure to be derived from viewing “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is in guessing just how low the film-makers will sink. Horrendously penned, directed with clumsy, amateurish hands by Norwegian Tommy Wirkola and boasting two wooden turns from a pair of usually solid actors, the movie is a colossal misfire. It’s not simply bad. It’s dizzyingly atrocious. The shittiest exploitation feature ever pioneered by a major Hollywood studio.

After famously dispatching of a witch during their youth, siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have turned to hunting the supernatural hags for a living. Called into a small town after the disappearance of multiple children, the duo quickly unearth spooky goings on, much to the chagrin of sceptical Sheriff Berringer (a predictably buzzed Peter Stormare). As the omens worsen and the town comes under attack, the locals begin to despise the fantasy bounty hunters, but both Gretel and Hansel persevere, their latest job bringing them unexpectedly close to their origins.

Wirkola’s directorial work is inept and artistically meritless. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” isn’t just a poorly put together movie, it’s a feature that wrestles with basic cinematic literacy. It has no over-arching tone. Scenes and subplots collapse around each other, denying the picture an editorial rhythm. The action is messily assembled and more often than not incomprehensible. The dweeb from “Project X” disturbingly fondles Arterton’s assets whilst she is unconscious and laughs at an innocent man exploding in a cloud of vsicera. Nothing about this catastrophe makes sense, and what’s worse it never works. There are small shreds of potential floating around the punch line of a premise, but they’ve all been drowned by the lack of vision or even basic technique evidenced by those sheparding the fiasco. 

The action falls victim to the post-Bourne curse of over-kinetic camerawork, often making it impossible to deduce what’s occurring or to process the stakes. When you can make out what’s going on, any excitement is drained thanks to a lack of imagination, shoddy wirework or cheap CGI. Watching witches shoot poorly visualised bursts of flame from their fingers, or witnessing frenzied hand to hand combat has extreme limitations, “Witch Hunters” happy to succumb to each and every one. I finished watching it less than an hour ago, and honestly can’t recall one memorable or even semi-inspired example of genre film-making within the piece. The only sequences that standout are those that transcend mere nothingness, and plummet into the realm of ridiculous misjudgement reserved for legendary turkeys. One such instance involves a troll developing feelings reminiscent of King Kong for Arterton’s Gretel. It’s even lamer than it sounds, chiefly because the movie begs you to take it seriously. That’s just a fraction of how delusional this dog gets.

Character development was clearly done away with in the early stages of pre-production, not that much extra attention was applied to the illogical plot. We don’t get to know Hansel or Gretel much beyond the fact the former has diabetes (an admittedly clever touch) and the latter is suffering through some intense maternal yearning. The film begins with a bang but refuses to halt and fill in any exposition, instead steam-rolling the two dimensional heroes into a series of rusty battles. Arterton and Renner have no chemistry together and the movie fails to present even a slither of conflict between the pair, robbing “Witch Hunters” of even the basic requirement of dramatic interest. Wirkola boils it down to the two barrelling headfirst into melee after melee, allowing some very dumb question marks to arise in the process. Characters act without intelligence, and for apparently seasoned hunters of the occult, the leads foul up with remarkable proficiency.

Famke Janssen pops up as the chief nasty, her embarrassment presumably masked by patchy make-up. She is just one of the many people involved with this debacle that deserves infinitely better. In fact I can’t really think of many performers who deserve less. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a travesty, a clear and early contender for 2013’s worst film. I also saw “G.I Joe: Retaliation” this week, so that’s some standard to set.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

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