Sunday, January 27, 2013

“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” – How do you know she’s a witch?

Every now and then, I come across a movie that I expect to be a giant pile of crap, but end up liking for no real reason. After screening Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the screening organizers asked us what we thought about the movie. My response was “it was an entertaining movie that I enjoyed and would never try to defend as being a good movie.” The girl laughed when I said that, nodding in agreement. I’ve thought about the movie a lot over the past two days and that opinion hasn’t changed. The only realization I’ve had is that I can’t think of any reason why I liked it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pile of crap, critically speaking. But, as I told my friend as we walked out of the theater (she hated it and it’s easy to see why), when you compare it to similar movies of the past couple of years (Red Riding Hood, Season of the Witch, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), it’s easily the best of the lot. Granted, that’s not really saying much, but I would watch this movie again before rewatching Gangster Squad.

In case you missed the previews, Hansel and Gretel grow up to be famed witch hunters after disposing of the witch in the candy house when they were children. The movie begins by showing us that event, followed by the opening credits overlaid on a series of witch killings. This is to establish that Hansel and Gretel are, in fact, cartoons. Sure, they look like Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, but there’s no other explanation for them cheating death multiple times. Only cartoon characters can survive the beatings these two take without dying, or even getting hurt that badly.

Anyway, the mayor of a village in some place that may or may not be Germany (I really don’t know; Hansel and Gretel speak in American accents while everyone else has a German-ish accent) hires the duo to solve their witch problem. Several children have gone missing and the town believes it to be the work of witches because…you know…witches. When the pair arrives in the town, the local sheriff (Peter Stormare) is about to execute a woman for being because we absolutely needed to hear Jeremy Renner ask them “how do you know she’s a witch?”, then proceed to explain to them what a witch looks like. Seriously, this happens, and John Cleese is nowhere to be found, but somewhere Monty Python is cringing. Obviously, this woman, Mina (Pihla Viitala) turns out to actually be a witch or else why would they make such a big deal out of this scene?

After killing another witch, the heroes discover the major plot hole of the movie – that the children are being abducted for no real reason since the grand high witch, Muriel (Famke Janssen), actually only wants Gretel’s heart in order to become fireproof. It’s an oddly specific thing to want to be impervious to when there are lots of other ways to kill a witch. I know this because Hansel is kind enough to list some of them to a fan-boy in the village, not to mention we see them killing several witches without so much as lighting a match. I also hate myself a little right now because I can’t believe my lack of ridicule for a movie featuring a fan-boy (he asks for their autographs on a scrapbook) and a grand high witch (again, Hansel’s words).

The other problems with the story center on the characters, mostly due to lack of development of them or explanations of the fantasy world they live in. For starters, there’s a troll (that looks suspiciously like Ludo from Labyrinth, except without the orange hair) that is helping the bad witches because, as he puts it “trolls serve witches.” He doesn’t ever say why this is; just states it as if it’s a rule of the world. Except, he turns on those same witches at the end of the movie for seemingly the same reason – that he is serving witches (good ones this time). So, if he’s allowed to choose which witches (ha) he serves and doesn’t like working for the bad witches, why is working for them in the first place? Then, there’s the sheriff, who is easily the most worthless secondary villain since Draco Malfoy. The heroes already have a slew of powerful enemies; why add another one who serves no purpose other than to be a dick and annoy the audience? Luckily, we don’t have to endure eight movies of this nonsense (like we did with Malfoy), as the sheriff only makes it to about the fifty-minute mark. Finally, we never learn if becoming a witch is a choice or genetic, since genetics are implied and choosing is flat out stated (by, who else, Hansel). This is a contradiction that muddles much of the story and severely undermines the crux of Muriel’s plan.

The rest of the movie plays out exactly as you expect, even down to the big reveal about the siblings. As far as the witches go, they are poorly written with questionable motivation, and the make-up jobs on the main ones are abysmal. They look like their faces are made of cracked concrete and this is explained by Hansel (he’s like a witch-opedia) as “evil revealing itself through ugliness.” Except for the grand high witch, of course, who can make herself look normal.

The conclusion I finally came to is that this really should have been a video game. The movie is structured exactly like today’s video games – there’s a prologue that introduces the heroes, there are multiple fight scenes with witches (bosses) who are increasingly more powerful, the characters carry anachronistic weapons (they have shotguns and grenades while everyone else has sticks), use cussing as comedic breaks, are helped at various points by different characters, and everything culminates in a witch-killing orgy at the edge of a cliff. Even little things like characters speaking with little emotion, a brief sex scene where Hansel is lured into a “healing pool” by Mina (who is kind enough to remove her clothes and make the R-rating well worth it), and special effects that look like every video game out there today.

After all of that, the best answer I have is that I expected this movie to be so much worse. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Maybe it’s the fact that I like video games. Maybe it’s even the guy part of me that wants to cut a preposterous movie a break for five seconds of female nudity. Maybe, and most likely, it’s that I happened to be in just the right mood to enjoy a completely ridiculous movie that has no critical value whatsoever.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, as the previews give you plenty of fair warning about spending your time and money on this movie.

1 comment:

  1. I totally thought the same thing about the troll when I saw the movie, that he looked and sounded like Ludo!