If you go down to the woods today… Well, don’t. You’re likely to find some wizened old hag living in a gingerbread house. That’s what happens to young Hansel and Gretel who, as the Brothers Grimm fairytale goes, incinerate the witch in her oven and live to fight another day. Literally, according to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, as the ‘hero orphans’ grow up to roam the land in skin-tight bondage gear, kicking ass.
In the woods near Augsburg, Germany, something’s hunting children. These aren’t the rhapsodic woods of Terrence Malick’s imaginings – they’re positively stuffed with scabby-chinned witches.
Which is where strapping Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and whip-tongued Gretel (Gemma Arterton) come in, hired by the Mayor of Augsburg to take out Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) before the Blood Moon rises. If only Janssen could stop over-acting long enough for them to lop off her head.
Complicating matters is swaggering Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare, barking every line), who doesn’t like the idea of the heroes swooping in to save his town, and sends his own murderous posse to get rid of them.
Cue blood-splattered skirmishes in which Dead Snow director Tommy Wirkola demonstrates he’s still unafraid of the red stuff, but has no clue how to stage an edgy stand-off.
That lack of tension hobbles the entire film, not least in a studio-bound climactic witch-fight that feels like a lost scene from Xena: Warrior Princess.
The world Wirkola creates doesn’t make a jot of sense – our not-so-terrific twosome trade in oddly futuristic weaponry and for all the gore and F-bombs, H&G:WH feels too simplistic to be anything other than a kids’ film.
Shame; as a concept, it’s airtight: with Will Ferrell producing and Wirkola keen to inject more blood into Hollywood horror, this seemed primed for a good old-fashioned B-horror bum-kicking.
Instead of delivering a fairytale Evil Dead, though, Wirkola’s film stakes out similar terrain to 2012’s po-faced Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, bleeding its premise into a husk that’s devoid of life or humour.
It’s disappointing considering the strength of Wirkola’s amusingly barmy Dead Snow. Sadly, the Norwegian joins a long line of European filmmakers who’ve upped sticks to Hollywood, only to lose their verve along the way. By the time Janssen hisses, “The end is nigh”, you’ll be praying she’s speaking the truth.
Verdict: Though it gives good splat and the scenery’s to die for, Hansel & Gretel gets just about everything wrong. Hammy, boring, chronically unfunny – there’ll be nightmares before bedtime. 2/5
Via Total Film