Review: The confusion of the Witch Hunters

Posted by CB Droege

The opening of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters moves fast, but does a good job of placing the characters.

After that, however, the film goes downhill, and even manages to forget that we already experienced a well-established backstory.

The tale may take place in the past, but the film doesn't even try to be a period piece. The only place the setting exists is in the sets. Everything else, from the technology to the language to the social morality, is entirely - and blatantly - anachronistic.

It makes one wonder why they didn’t just set the story in a modern, rural, European village. Almost nothing would have been different outside the sets, and it would have made a lot more sense when the characters use modern swear words, understand modern medicine, wield modern weapons, etc.

The many anachronisms weren’t the only holes in the plot, however. There were also several guns, literally in some cases, that Chekov would have taken issue with, like Hansel’s diabetes, for example. His ‘sugar sickness’ is revealed early in the film - oddly avoiding the use of the word ‘diabetes’, despite so many other modern words in their dialogue. He became sick after the witch made him eat so much candy as a child, and now he has to give himself medicine every few hours (for which he carries a pouch of hypodermic needles, of course). After it’s introduced, we see him give himself a shot during down moments a few times, but it is never actually important to the plot. It’s not presented as a joke, and it doesn’t seem to be social commentary or a cautionary tale. Hansel’s condition serves no purpose from a narrative perspective. It seems to only exist because someone along the way thought it would be clever, but couldn’t think of anywhere clever to go with it.

Further, a lot of holes are left in the lore. Arguably, the most interesting thing about the film is the witches and their strange nature, but how the witches come to be, or exactly what their rules are as monsters is never made clear. By the end of the film, I’m not even certain if the witches are another race or if they are humans who have studied magic. There seems to be evidence for both possibilities, and none of it conclusive. This is terribly little depth, even for a monster flick. It’s hard to really get into the fight when we’re not even sure what the heroes are fighting against.

Partly the film tries to make up for all of this with great effects, and the production values are, indeed, high. The sets I mentioned earlier all work well, and if weren’t for all the other issues, would create a very medieval atmosphere. The cool effects, however, are few and far between. If you’ve seen the full-length red-band trailer for the film, then you have seen all of the cool effects already.

The 3D, if you choose to pay for the premium ticket is actually alright. It’s technically ‘hybrid’ 3D, which apparently means it doesn’t look quite as good as a real 3D film, but it also doesn’t produce the '3D headache' that some folks get when they see a fake 3D film. At least, it didn’t for me.

The performances in the film are mostly good, especially our leads, but they honestly weren’t given much to work with. The material is not challenging at all, from a performance perspective, so it’s hard to see if we’re really getting the A-game from the two stars. Jeremy Renner (Hansel) is mostly just playing the same character we’ve already seen in The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy last year, but Gemma Arterton (Gretel) is playing a role that’s new to her. In previous action films she’s managed well the role of the damsel in distress, and she has to do that here some as well, but she also gets to kick some ass, and she doesn’t disappoint, but neither does she dazzle.

Overall, Hansel & Gretel is only okay. Despite high production values, the actual plot and lore of the film is a nearly complete letdown, and there are no really stand-out setpieces. It might be a fun diversion on home video some lazy afternoon this fall, but there is no need to see it in the theater.