Film Review: Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters

Hansel and Gretal: Witch HuntersHansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters is a watchable action fantasy, even if it veers on the trashy side.  The film seems to be aiming for two different things and does not sit comfortably in either aspect as a result.

Having been lured to a candy-filled house as children, Hansel and Gretal manage to kill the witch who has imprisoned them. As adults, the brother and sister become bounty hunters who track down and kill witches. The pair are brought to a small village to find the culprit who has been kidnapping children…

Writer and director Tommy Wirkola attempts to inject new life into the Hansel and Gretal fairy tale. He does this by making them  witch hunters and action stars. It is not dissimilar to last year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. The children of the fairy tale have grown up and donned powerful weapons which they sling over their leather-clad shoulders.

The narrative of Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters is not exactly illuminating, but the pacing is good. The film features several archetypes of the fantasy genre, including the unrelenting villain, the ambiguous helper and the devoted love interest. The protagonists lack depth, but then the focus is on the action.

Wirkola’s film is strange in that it is period set, yet Hansel and Gretal appear overtly modern. They speak with American accents (unlike most of the cast who boast a Germanic lilt) and use conspicuously profane language. The accents are a little distracting and feed into the idea that the film is not certain of what it is aiming for. In its updating of a fairy tale it allows comparisons to Red Riding Hood, yet the language and violence suggest it is aimed at an older audience. However, it seems that the film would have had more appeal to a less mature audience.

The film features some very visceral deaths. Despite an abundance of gore, the CGI effects mean it never appears too authentic. The use of 3D is fine; it is not too distracting or gimmicky. The music is sometimes too abrupt, taking viewers out of certain scenes. The performances are adequate, with Jeremy Renner seeming to not take things too seriously. There is some humour, whilst the dialogue can be hokey.

Coming in at 88 minutes, Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters may not quite be successful, but never feels like a chore.

Film Review: Red Riding Hood

Sustaining a simple fairy tale over feature-length duration is no mean feat, but for the most part Red Riding Hood pulls it off. By no means one of the great fairy tale adaptations, nonetheless the film should satisfy the audience it is intended for.

Valerie is a beautiful young woman caught between two men. Her childhood friend Peter is a woodcutter who can offer little in terms of wealth. Valerie’s parents wish her to marry Henry, whose family has good standing in the village. Before Valerie can make a decision her sister is killed by a wolf that plagues the village. The villagers seek revenge, but the culprit may be closer than they think…

Screenwriter David Johnson has done a good job of transforming Red Riding Hood from a fairy tale into a mystery. The film functions as a whodunit, with the identity of the wolf remaining a secret until the final act. A number of characters are put in the frame; Valerie’s mistrust of those close to her is mirrored by the audience.

Suspense is duly built up as Red Riding Hood progresses, but the film is let down by the final act. The climax of the film is a bit of a mess, with too many aspects needing to be concluded at once. Moreover, the explanation given at this point appears at odds with the events that have taken place up to this point. While there was never going to be a rational explanation, the reasoning offered is highly spurious.

Whilst altering the fairy tale to something more appropriate for an older audience is understandable, it is a pity that Catherine Hardwicke’s film is infused with another strong mythology. The wolf is actually a werewolf; someone in the village is behind the murders. While a human culprit is necessary for the mystery aspect of Red Riding Hood, there is not such a need to root the story so deeply in the werewolf mythology. The film would have been stronger without this detour into hallowed ground and silver. With Hardwicke directing, the influence of Twilight is clear.

Amanda Seyfried makes an adequate heroine as Valerie. Shiloh Fernandez makes an appropriate love interest as Peter; although the actor is not called on to do much else other than brood. Gary Oldman brings some brevity to proceedings as Father Solomon, but this is not one of his finer roles.

Red Riding Hood is visually sumptuous, with its striking contrast of red and white. Some of the slow motion sequences are overdone, but overall the film is polished. Red Riding Hood can be posited somewhere between Sleepy Hollow and The Crucible thematically, although it does not match either of these films in terms of quality.