“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is the best “Evil Dead” sequel we never got. It’s a fast paced horror action hybrid with witches that are monstrous, powerful, and absolutely disgusting. To offset their frightful appearance, Hansel and Gretel are there to stomp on their heads and provide merciless deaths while providing biting bon mots. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” channels Sam Raimi in many ways; I almost expected Ash to jump out from the woods at some point yelling “Yo, She-bitch!”
Sure, the sub-plots the movie doles out for Hansel and Gretel are scant and boring, but when the movie stops trying so hard and focuses on its silly trappings, it works as a fun fantasy horror hybrid. Hansel and Gretel abandoned by their father, stumble upon the witches famous candy house. Barely surviving their skirmish with her, Gretel kills her and they escape with their lives. Now grown (bereft of a German accent, mysteriously) they wander the lands hunting down evil witches, and look damn good doing it. Especially Gretel. Much of the film’s faults are more than compensated by the film’s entertaining devices. When local kids begin turning up kidnapped, Hansel and Gretel learn that the series of crimes are being engineered by Muriel.
Apparently when twelve kids have been drained of their blood, they intend to rip the heart out of a white witch during a blood moon and drink the potion allowing every witch in the land to become invulnerable to their achilles heel: Fire. Man, those potions are specific. No wonder only a certain number of people become evil. In either case, much of what Hansel and Gretel know about their childhoods is not what it seems, and Muriel is most intent on kidnapping Gretel for reasons she can’t quite understand. Meanwhile Hansel and Gretel find their own purposes in the world, as Hansel meets a young wafe named Mia who helps him heal, while Gretel befriends a violent troll named Edward who takes a liking to her.
While Hansel and Gretel don’t have much in the way of complexity or depth, their characters have a charm that’s irresistible. Not to mention the writers are able to add interesting elements to them. For example, Hansel is now diabetic from his experience in the candy house, eating non-stop. And Gretel is still haunted from murdering the evil witch. They also hate their parents for abandoning them. While working, they have a definite chemistry, and the film allows them to look like actual bounty hunters who take beatings, tumble, and occasionally bicker while having to outwit the evil witches. They’re like ancient cowboys who roam the land in slick clothing. Seriously, is there a store that makes billions out of suiting up hunters, science fiction heroes, and vampires or something? Back to the sub-plots, much of the movie’s sub-plots feel tacked on.
Peter Stormare plays a rogue sheriff intent on jailing Hansel and Gretel that literally goes nowhere, Mia and Hansel’s romance is abrupt, character Ben is only written in the story to take the role of the audience marveling at sights, and injecting his own awe and terror but barely has a presence. And the sisters of Muriel have little to do. That said, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arerton give spirited and entertaining performances, and Derek Mears is great as the troll Edward. Famke Jansenn also has a good time as the sexy Muriel who delights in inflicting pain on others. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is allegedly the attempted start of a trilogy. I hope it ventures more in to creepy Deadite territory and less “Underworld” convolution, all things considered. As a standalone film, it’s a fun and bloody bit of fantasy I intend to watch again.