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What's with the name?

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Review

#%&*ing Witches!: Or Yes, I’m Actually Going to Talk About Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, dear God, why.” That is an excellent place to start from. Unfortunately, that’s just the start. H&G is, quite obvious to anyone who has so much as seen a billboard for it, DOA. This is not the part that is interesting; plenty of dead cinematic bodies show up in theaters every year, increasingly so in the empty, hollow months just following award-season cutoff. What is interesting is why such an obviously cold cadaver is showing up at all, even metaphorically. Such a crime of film is as apparent as any corporeal evidence; we cluster around the edges of the taped-off scene muttering amongst ourselves, ‘why, why did this happen?’

So, in the spirit of continued analogy, I am here to perform an autopsy on the long-dead corpse of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. This procedure is not due to a genetic lack of the “fun” gland in this anatomist’s body. On the contrary, “fun” is what Hansel & Gretel could have used a good deal more of, and what it so agonizingly lacks.

(Contained therein are a few spoilers. How much one might care about them we leave entirely to the reader’s discretion.)

In this sequel, as I suppose one could call it, to the classic story, the titular duo are all grown up and badass after some traumatic childhood abandonment and a little incident involving a candy house. They become bounty hunters-cum-nasty cops, tromping the muddy streets of medieval-esque towns beset by a plague of witches. When one town reports a rash of child-snatching, it’s up to the sassy siblings (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) to solve the mystery, rescue the kids, and kill anything that flies too slowly on a broom. They also have to deal with pesky fans, have important revelations about their past, and make sure poor, diabetic Hansel gets his meds. (This is the movie’s one clever idea, and it is, naturally, thrown away until the climax.)

If you absolutely, positively have to make an action-centric blockbuster off of a second-tier fairy tale, there’s no reason to play coy. Swing for the fences and swing hard, and it is here that our trundling ball of F/X falls short before older Hansel (a hungover-sounding Renner) gets his in his first voice-over. The initial idea is so ludicrous, so meant to capitalize on the slow-rolling trend of harder- gritter- darker- fairy tales (now that vampires are off the Hollywood pitch table for the foreseeable future), that there is no reason that this mess should be taking itself seriously. Yet, it does, and direly so.

As we roamed along, I got the feeling that H&G would have been best served by aiming for a tone somewhere in the vicinity of 1999’sThe Mummy. Granted, a mix of high production and earnest camp is a hard mark to hit, especially when it’s clear that no one involved cares all that much. (Both of the movie’s stars look like they’re annoyed that they had to get out of bed for this.) But a marked absence of self-awareness is a death knell here, where it is a boon for even straight-laced absurdist moneymakers like the Resident Evil series. I bring up these counterexamples as markers of possibility for a production where your core idea is, frankly, dumb as rocks. For here is a realm where almost any strong choice could prove better than none at all.

It is obvious from the design details and toss-off ideas that the production desperately wanted a steampunk setting. Yet, for no particular reason, the story is still set in a vaguely medieval period, despite the frequent and unhindered use of, among other things; automatic weapons, a clock-wound wristwatch with a timer, machined wire, and -no, not kidding- insulin shots. While being empirically for anachronism, everything has its place, and steampunk’s place is not to show up, unexplained and without apparent humor, in the superstitious 13th century Black Forest of Germany. Like every single other part of the film, no decisions are being made anywhere. H&G isn’t simply bad; it’s lazy. “Oh for God’s sake,” the production seems to be saying with a put-upon sigh, “Let’s get this done with so we can knock off to the next thing.”

Everything, from the costumes to the score from the usually dependable Hans Zimmer, swings wildly between playing it straight and bold-faced tackiness. (Correction: Atli Örvarsson is the composer, who works under Zimmer. Given what I say about his score, I’m sure he would have been pleased to let Zimmer take the credit for this one.) The soundtrack moves from ethereal choir singing in orchestral pieces, to screeching heavy-metal guitar riffs, often within the space of a single scene. The contrast could be played as humor, if it seemed intentional at all. Let it be said that either direction would have been fine; H&G is nothing if not a missed opportunity to produce a camp classic! But both, sometimes side-by-side, can be off-putting. 300-style over/under-cranked slick actions sequences are broken up by cheesy wirework of the breed more at home in 1970s television shows. Chillingly grotesque body horror runs alongside practical creature makeup that would cause the perpetrator to be voted from Face-Off. A quick action piece tacked as an epilogue right before the end credits has more consistency and panache than almost the rest of the film, adding to the general state of confusion I found myself sitting in after the lights came up.

But, by far, one of the most confusing parts of this show is the unnecessary tip towards an R-rating. The movie earns its R through repeated and laboriously dropped F-bombs and other four-letter-words, and its frequent gore. Not one to mind gore, I didn’t understand its truly gratuitous place here, for it adds nothing to the experience. Not tension, not a sense of danger, not even the sick fun of Tarantino-esque cartoonishness. Watching a witch get squashed by a falling tree for slapstick and watching a woman get burned alive by a mob in front of her husband are given equal screen time, to no good end. All this is meant to grant the film a hard edge that it neither earns nor deserves. Bear in mind, the movie was shot two years ago, shelved, and brought out following the watershed of The Avengers so that the studio could capitalize on Renner’s recognizability, or at least claim it as a financial loss. H&G didn’t even hold press screenings pre-theatrical release. If those holding the reins were set to capitalize on this venture at all, they should have chucked out a couple things and stuck with a far more lucrative PG-13.

We can spend all day lamenting what could have been. However, if this bloated waste of morgue space doesn’t give a damn, well %#* it. Neither should we.

 

Zoe Chevat holds an MFA in Film and Animation from CalArts, where she was part of the Experimental Animation program. She is currently illustrating a backup feature for the forthcoming original graphic novel The Reason for Dragons, by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely, which will be released by Archaia this spring. She lives and works in Los Angeles as both a writer and artist, and, as a relocated East Coaster, still finds the first part of this sentence unnerving.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ana-Laura-Lopes/100000871735679 Ana Laura Lopes

    I actually liked it very much. Surely its not a movie for thinking, and I usually hate popcorn movies. But I just let it all go and had a lot of fun. Plus, Gretel was a great heroine.

  • Benny

    Professional critics are such a buzzkill sometimes man…pass the popcorn.

  • Anonymous

    Quick correction: The score was composed by Atli Örvarsson, who is part of Zimmer’s company, Remote Control. Zimmer was the executive music producer.

  • s0nicfreak

    Such a shame it was done badly… I could see this idea working out if it were Supernatural-esque, I’d love to see that with a brother/sister dynamic rather than a brother/brother dynamic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1439262234 Becca Hoekstra

    I was actually intrigued by the film, primarily for the complete lack of potential love story – I mean, there’s no way a brother and sister are going to hook up, right? (RIGHT??) And male/female adventure stories sans-romance sounds pretty cool to me.

    Eh, I’m still gonna check it out.

  • Anonymous

    Not everything has to be a cinematic masterpiece. It was an entertaining piece of make-believe, not meant to be high-brow. You’d do well as a paid movie critic, though, I give you that, you fit right in.

  • Anonymous

    Same, I had a great time watching it, because I knew exactly what I was going to get: a goofy movie that was probably going to be predictable and over-the-top. I really liked the brother/sister dynamic, too, I was convinced they were close siblings.

    I mean I wouldn’t say it’s a good movie, but it was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon laughing at how silly it was.

  • http://twitter.com/TechnoMistress Lisa Liscoumb

    I went and saw this on Sunday, and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I didn’t go in with any preconceived notions, or expecting it to be any more than it was – a campy, gory romp through a classic fairytale. I wasn’t looking for a great work of art, I was looking for a fun timewaster, and that’s what I got.

    One of the things I really enjoyed was the dynamic between the two main characters. I thought Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton did a good job of portraying the brother/sister relationship.

    I also liked that Gretel, as in the fairytale, came across as the more intelligent of the two, the leader.

    And I loved the pesky fan. I thought it was a brilliant jab that was handled well.

  • http://twitter.com/type1B Chris B

    The diabetes, would have been clever if they didn’t make the character diabetic because the witch fed him too much candy. It like a rejected SNL sketch. I’ve read funnier things on reddit. Should have just named the film Diabetes; It doesn’t work like that, the movie.

  • Zoe Chevat

    Thanks for the correction, I’ll be putting a note in the main body. Zimmer is actually listed in the initial credits, which I understand can be a common practice for work done by those under a main composer’s employ.

  • http://twitter.com/electricalrat Electrical Rat

    “second-tier fairy tale”

    Ironicly it’s one of the most famous fairy tales in Germany, topping almost every other fairy tale. There is even a widely known old song, one of the few everyone seems to be able to sing along, no matter what age.

  • Cara Averna

    I enjoyed it! Of course it had a great deal of faults but I went into that movie expecting and accepting them. I assumed it would be like Van Helsing (which in my opinion it was.) A fun, campy, monster and gore movie. Which just so happened to also give me a AWESOME heroine- Gretal, who seemed to be brains and brawn wrapped up in one kickass package. Not to mention, the “romance” of the movie ended without much fan fare. Neither brother nor sister were motivated by a romantic interest and neither ended the movie with a new Significant Other.

    It was a fun movie that I laughed and awwww’d over. And sometimes that’s just what a girl needs.

  • http://twitter.com/sara_smile Sara

    Im going to have to respectively disagree. I saw it yesterday and absolutely loved it. I wasn’t really expecting it to be a next oscar winning movie but it was a lot of fun. And strangely enough it reminded me a lot of the show Supernatural in a way. And I loved that Gretel was a badass all the way through too :).

  • Katie

    I don’t get this idea that every movie has to be a masterpiece. When I go to a movie I only expect one thing: that I’ll be entertained. And I was. This movie was so much fun. It really is too bad that people will knock it just because it isn’t groundbreaking in anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/honey_child Sonya

    I liked it a lot. Mostly because Gretel didn’t end up with the dweeb that fanboy’d them as would happen in many other movies. I love that she was saving her brother as much as he was saving her. And I love that she was kicking as much ass as he was. Yes, it’s not Citizen Kane but just for making Gretel as credible as her brother (maybe even more so since she seemed to be the leader), I loved it.

  • Kassie

    I don’t know, I (like a lot of people I’ve seen) went in expecting ridiculous over the top anachronisms and action, and I actually really enjoyed it because of that. Well, and (also as many other people are saying) because it reminded me of Supernatural, though I was admittedly looking for that particular comparison.
    I mean, they make a record player out of a log and a disc with holes punched in it, how can you not love that level of utter disregard for how anything works?

  • Anonymous

    I dunno. I saw it last Sunday. I wasn’t expecting The Hobbit, or Les Mis. I just wanted to see something fun. What I didn’t expect was that Gretal would be pretty cool. It’s not often I get to see a main female protagonist that is 1) on even footing with her male counterparts, and 2) not saddled with a “forever after” love story. In this movie, I got to see something I rarely ever see, which is a woman playing bad ass along with the boys with none of the baggage most movies saddle women with in these roles.

    Also, I usually cringe when a hero happens to be a woman, and caught by a gang of men because of the ever present rape threats most movies put on. This one didn’t do that. Gretal was treated like any other hero that gets caught, and the threats were ones any man would face. There wasn’t any crude sexualization of her predicament. That alone is pretty damn cool in my book. I can only count a few movies where that is the case.

  • http://draw2much.deviantart.com/ Nicole Kiser

    While I found it a bit too gory for me (I just covered my eyes at those points), I really quite enjoyed it too. But then, like everyone else, I wasn’t expecting anything epic or breath taking. (The only thing that really annoyed me was the kid and his “That was awesome!” line.) I really liked Gretel! It was one of the first times I saw a female character in an action flick that wasn’t involved in a romantic plot line. That was my favorite part of the movie!

  • http://twitter.com/keltar93 James Gardiner

    Not everything has to be a masterpiece, but, as the review says, it has to be good at what it’s trying to do. From what I’ve heard, this movie fails to even operate as simple entertainment.

  • http://twitter.com/GalacticCynthia Cynthia

    Glad to hear from those who’ve seen it and enjoyed it for the fluff piece I expect it to be. I’ll still check it out myself but will probably wait for a second run screening with beer involved. I am hoping for something akin to A Knight’s Tale or Army of Darkness so I’m hoping for more humor than the reviewer gives the impression exists.

  • Anonymous

    You haven’t seen it, yet you judge it?

  • Anonymous

    Did they teach you to give credit where it belongs at CalArt? A commenter does your research for you, and you use that info to correct your article, and you don’t even acknowledge that.
    And that’s aside from the fact that it’s hilarious to assume someone would be ashamed of his work because of your opinion.
    >>(Correction: Atli Örvarsson is the composer, who works under Zimmer. Given what I say about his score, I’m sure he would have been pleased to let Zimmer take the credit for this one.) <<

  • http://www.facebook.com/KozmikPariah Ryan Colson

    I didn’t think it was taking itself too seriously at all (unlike Jackman’s Van Helsing).. it just seemed like a good ride. It was better than I was expecting it to be but not a film I’d rewatch anytime soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KozmikPariah Ryan Colson

    Tell that to the 67% who actually enjoy it on RT..

  • http://www.facebook.com/KozmikPariah Ryan Colson

    The only thing I didn’t get that I was hoping for was Gretel’s love scene with a troll :(
    And an extended montage end credits of witch killing, ala Dawn of the Dead’s remake…

  • http://twitter.com/keltar93 James Gardiner

    Hence why I’m not judging, just offering my outside opinion. For all I know, it could be worthwhile (the director did make the decently entertaining Dead Snow).

  • http://twitter.com/keltar93 James Gardiner

    76% of users also said they enjoyed Transformers 2. I hold little value in user polls.

  • http://twitter.com/rora_borealis Rora Borealis

    I found the movie to be pure entertainment. It didn’t take itself seriously. It gives you permission to laugh at it almost from the get-go. It’s not great cinema, no. (Gotta have some fluff sometimes.) What I walked in for was a Buffy-esque romp and that’s exactly what I got. My friends and I laughed through the movie and left with big grins on our faces. I’ll totally rent it when it comes out.

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    F*ck this movie. As a pagan I’m sick to death of “ZOMG WITCHES R EVIL U GUYZ!!!!”. Let it die a quick box office death please.

  • http://tinyglimpses.blogspot.com/ Meg P. W.

    I haven’t seen this yet, but I’m wondering if it has much in common with the so-bad-it’s-good Van Helsing. I feel like it took itself a bit seriously but ended up delightfully campy.