Tommy Wirkola of Dead Snow fame has brought his first big-budget project to the table – an ultraviolent adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel, and it is a very strange treat to offer up: highly flavorful, light on substance, easily-digested, but likely to spill its toppings and filling when bitten into. It is a guilty pleasure made to order, and a jovial, sometimes even sincere attempt, at reminding today’s viewers of the lost art of the B-horror flick.
Literary classicists and Grimm purists need not be reminded to proceed with caution, but if you’re intrigued by the idea of BBC’s Merlin having a lovechild with Evil Dead, you’re in for an adrenaline rush.
Tone and style are strongly reminiscent of tabletop RPG sessions with college buddies, right down to the encounters that your GM whipped up at 5AM. Plot and character nuances are tossed out, appropriately enough, like candy, with about as much weight. The presence of Good Witches and their significance to the title characters is shrugged off in expository speeches. Hansel suffering from diabetes, while a clever character quirk, is treated as a transparent dramatic device, being established in the film’s first act only for the sake of adding suspense to the climax. Supporting characters such as sidekicks, romantic interests and minor antagonists feel thin and barely-there. The most psychologically layered character in the film is likely the servant of the Dark Witches, a morally-grey ogre whom looks like the steroidal cousin of Hoggle from Labyrinth.
But even when the picture stumbles, it does so with spirit, retaining charm and never appearing lazy. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton generate the chemistry and momentum of a classic slapstick double act, and the genuine emotional commitment shown to their roles provides just enough relief to keep all the ham in the film from going stale. Meanwhile, the stunning Famke Janssen is a thrill to watch as the head villainess, finding the sweet spot between being campy and terrifying and proudly feeding from it. It may not be news that women can be just as kick-ass – and brutal – as men, but it’s refreshing to see Hollywood acknowledge and showcase this fact with such delightfully committed lead actresses.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the stuff of a roaring Saturday night with friends, sugary drinks, and a fresh bag of popcorn – provided you can keep the popcorn down, that is. No holds are barred, no apologies are made, and much like Grimm’s candy house itself, no scenery is left un-chewed.