“What happened to our parents?” says grown-up Gretel (Gemma Arterton) to her brother. “We promised never to talk about it,” says Hansel (Jeremy Renner) who, like his sister, is a professional witch-hunter. Small-town mayor (Rainer Bock) hires them to find 11 children, abducted by witches. A “Blood Moon” is three nights away when witches will sacrifice the children. That’s the setup for this Gothic gorefest, an over-the-top sequel to the Grimm brothers’ famous tale.
Will the abducted children be found in time? Why did Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandon their children in the dark forest years ago? What’s the best way to kill a witch? For answers, should you wish them, see “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.” Otherwise, don’t.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are all-business as bounty hunters Hansel and Gretel, one-note action heroes out to rid the world of witches. “The only good witch,” says Hansel, “is a dead witch.” (Spoiler alert: He’s mistaken.) Hansel and Gretel do a lot of running, leaping, fighting, shooting, and shouting as they seek the children and try to slay the witches — not the easiest thing to do. “If you’re going to kill a witch,” Hansel advises, “set her house on fire.” (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t always work.)
Others in the cast include the witches, an unattractive lot, led by Famke Janssen as Muriel, head witch, whose new recipe for brew, she says, “will change everything.” Other witches include Pihla Viitala, Ingrid Boise Berdal and Joanna Kulia. Thomas Mann is young groupie Ben. Derek Mears plays troll Edward, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes. Rainer Bock and Peter Stormare are Mayor Engleman and Sheriff Berringer.
“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a Gothic, gory action horror flick, “a new twist,” as the tagline says, “on a classic tale.” Directed and co-written (with Dante Harper) by Tommy Wirkola, the script is clunky — plot threads unfinished, character motives missing, jokes lame. Edward the troll works for the witches, but his heart lies elsewhere. He’s the most interesting character. If only he were on-screen more. Still, there’s plenty of (mindless) action and the film’s fun to look at: production values, art direction, costumes and make-up are a mix of 19th-century rural Europe and anachronistic 20th-century technology.
Rated R for strong fantasy horror, violence, gore, sexuality, nudity and effing-language — especially from Gretel — the film runs 88 minutes but may seem longer. Watch one of the “Shrek” movies instead for a smart fairy tale update.
Avoid “Hansel and Gretel,”
Witches and the forest dim,
Gory, noisy, stupid —
Not your brothers Grimm.