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Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

By Bob Garver 

Jan. 29, 2013. It’s January, and I know that for three reasons. The first is that the calendar says so. The second is that it’s freezing cold. And the third is that I have to review garbage like “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”. This month is notorious for its awful slate of new releases (not to be confused with awards season favorites like “Zero Dark Thirty” that open in limited release the previous year and wait until January to go wide). Studios come down from the holiday rush by releasing the absolute worst of their back catalogue that would get creamed against real competition. But even when taken with this grain of salt, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is still a dreadful film.

The premise is that Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) got such satisfaction out of killing their first witch (she of that infamous gingerbread house and fiery fate) that they made it their life’s work to kill the rest of them. Our heroes are summoned to a small village where about a dozen children have gone missing. They soon discover that a congregation of witches led by Muriel (Famke Janssen) is in town for a ceremony that will make them impervious to fire. Naturally, the ceremony requires a blood sacrifice, and Gretel’s blood fits the bill nicely. But it’s mostly witch and sleazy human blood that gets spilled over the course of the investigation.

The story seems to take place in 19th-century Germany, yet the characters use modernized, automatic weapons. So not only is the film dumb enough to transport these weapons to its antiquated setting, but it can’t think of a way to kill its witches without cheating and resorting to guns. The promise of brainless violence is one of the film’s selling points, and the guns rob us of some creative 18th-century methods. Also, I kept hoping to see somebody impaled with a broken-off candy cane from the gingerbread house and it never happened.

Most of the story takes place in a forest of unclear dimensions, so at any given time it’s impossible to tell where the characters are in relation to each other. The special effects are terrible; the witches aren’t scary and the action sequences make blatant use of bad CGI. The script is peppered with profanity that is maybe supposed to be funny but really just proves how desperate the film is for a laugh. As for the actors, the film isn’t going to do any favors for the careers of Gemma Arterton or Famke Janssen, but it’s Jeremy Renner who is going to suffer the most because of this mess. This time last year, he was a bankable action star hot off “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”. He has since gone on to be the lamest Avenger, the face of the botched “Bourne” reboot, and now has this blotch on his permanent record.

I do believe that there’s potential for a good R-rated “Hansel and Gretel” movie. But instead of turning the main characters into adults who hunt witches, leave them as children who get lost. There’s plenty of room for twisted, violent imagery in a straight-up adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale. Plus you don’t get all those embarrassing unintentional laughs when a grown man and woman introduce themselves as Hansel and Gretel. This response to the trailers gave me hope that I might be able to enjoy the film as a sort of comedy. It was a nice hope while it lasted, but it turns out that “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” isn’t enjoyable on any level.

One Star out of Five.

“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is rated R for strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language. Its running time is 88 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.