HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (MA15+) **
Limelight, Hoyts Woden and Tuggeranong
Reviewer: SIMON WEAVING
Gretel (Gemma Arterton) and Hansel (Jeremy Renner) in the film Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Four years ago, Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola had some of the best fun possible with the cult hit Dead Snow, snappier than a chainsaw and a riot of bloody fun as zombie Nazis surrounded a shack full of medical students on a winter holiday. Seduced by one of the Hollywood studios, his attempt to create a new splatter-fairytale franchise with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is sadly misguided by comparison - the international stars in the cast unable to make much of a confused treatment of the Grimm Brothers' cautionary tale.
Jeremy Renner is a grown-up Hansel, and Gemma Arterton his big sister Gretel. As children, they were left in the woods by their parents, came across the gingerbread house, and met and killed the nasty witch inside. With high unemployment in the unspecified Middle Ages of this story, the two decide to take up witch-slaughtering as a family business, aided by a collection of steam-punk weapon systems. Commissioned by the mayor of a small village to find 11 missing children - presumed nabbed by witches - the siblings are joined by a beautiful young woman, Mina (Pihla Viitala), whom they rescue from being burnt alive by an angry rabble stirred up by the local sheriff (Peter Stomare). Also tagging along is teen fan-boy Ben (Thomas Mann) who has been following the exploits of the duo for years and who is very handy when any explanation of the backstory is necessary. As Hansel and Gretel get their investigation under way in the local woods, all paths seem to lead to Muriel (Famke Janssen) the darkest, wickedest witch who has some big plans involving the full moon, the children's blood and spells that were definitely banned at Hogwarts.
While the story and production design can be forgiven for their preposterous silliness, Wirkola bungles the tone of the film, unsure how to highlight the ironic humour and the too-few clever lines. And rather than play Renner and Arterton as deliciously over-the-top killers, the two come across as serious and bored, despite all the jumping, shooting and punching. This is bounty-hunter territory and, sadly, Hansel and Gretel fall in the rather dull space between Clint Eastwood's mysterious Man With No Name and the wacky Ghostbusters trio. The cautionary tale here is: children, be very careful when excellent young directors from Europe enter the shiny house of Hollywood.