It starts just the same as the Brothers Grimm fairytale it rips off. As children, Hansel and Gretel are left in the wood by their father and can't find their way home. They find a gingerbread house and a witch who lures them in to fatten them up to eat. They turn the tables and kill the witch. The witch-hunting then becomes their career. As adults (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), they're asked to find the witch who is stealing children away from a small village. However, what they uncover is no simple abduction- the powerful witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) has a plan to make all witches fire-proof. But first they just need one last ingredient- the heart of a Grand White Witch.
It's difficult to know where exactly to begin. Actually, no, it isn't. Tommy Wirkola, the writer and director of this unadulterated piece of tripe, should never be allowed to even write a shopping list again if this is the best he can come up with. What's worse, a studio actually GREENLIT this. Someone actually heard this idea and thought 'That'll make a good movie! Here, have lots of money'.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of these people who thinks that all cinema has to be art, or that every screenplay ever written has to be award-worthy. I'll happily sit through a blockbuster as much as an arthouse flick. But what I do ask is that the script is entertaining, doesn't rely on overworn cliches and generally has more substance than a one-line title pitch.
All the usual tropes are used- distrustful townsfolk, a white witch in hiding, painful revelations about the main characters' past- and none to any surprising or entertaining effect. The script is uneven and utterly predictable: when one particular character dies at the hands of the witch, they ask Hansel to do something for them. Jokingly, I said 'kill the f****** b****'. Guess what? That's exactly what they said. Lazy and not that funny.
Another issue I have is the portrayal of the central female character. Gretel is painted as a kick-ass no-nonsense action heroine, but for a kick-ass no-nonsense action heroine, she sure is put in situations where she has to be saved by a man an awful lot, the most distasteful of which is a potential rape by the boorish sheriff (Peter Stormare). When you consider that the whole point of the historic anti-witchcraft trials was the degradation of women who didn't toe the line, it's unsurprising to find a virulent strain of misogyny shot through the film, which I found unpleasant.
Both Renner and Arterton are better actors than this. So is Famke Janssen for that matter, who sadly relies on slicing the ham quite thick. But that's down to how she's been directed. Some of the make-up looks cheap and shoddy, some of the visual effects were just dreadful and- once again- you could tell which bits were added in for the 3D cinema release.
Am I overthinking things? Maybe. Am I asking too much of a film with a title as blatant as Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters? Probably. I'm sure there are people who enjoyed this and could let it wash over them without too much fuss, a film as insubstantial as candyfloss and forgotten as soon as they walked out of the cinema. Sadly I'm not one of those people and the film quickly passed from so-bad-it's-actually-good to just bad.
What stops this from being a zero-star review? Not much, to be honest. I liked maybe one or two ideas (Hansel being diabetic due to eating too much candy as a child, for instance) but the rest is just woeful. Avoid.
Rating: 1 out of 5