In Casa Verde — otherwise known as the St. George household — we only have a few rules.
1. Bring chocolate.
2. Mock as if there will be no tomorrow.
3. Watch any Jeremy Renner movie that has absolutely no chance of being nominated for an Academy Award.
Case in point?
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is silly and campy and hugely dumb sometimes. But I must say, it’s still not nearly as bad as I was expecting.
Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are all grown up now. They’re also famous witch hunters with an array of the most ridiculous and historically inaccurate weapons known to man. Their mission: to find and kill the witch (Famke Janssen) who’s snatching kids from all over this little village before she can complete her dastardly plan.
1. To be clear: when I say Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters wasn’t as bad as I was expecting . . . I was expecting pretty bad. Before we started the movie, Mekaela asked me, “Think this will be worse than Red Riding Hood?” And I was like, “God, I hope not.”
Thankfully, HaG:WH is definitely better than Red Riding Hood. Mostly because it never pretends to be anything other than what it is: violent, shlocky, ridiculous camp. There are a couple of genuinely funny moments. There are some awesome explosions of gore. I’m trying to refrain from starting a long and passionate essay about the word ‘gratuitous’ and how enjoying cartoonish levels of violence in fiction doesn’t preclude me from feeling horror about actual sadism in the actual world . . . pause, take a breathe. Uno . . . dos . . . tres . . . okay.
Let’s say this: there’s one sequence in the movie that reminded me very briefly of The Avengers, if The Avengers was rated R instead of PG-13. Obviously, The Avengers is twenty bazillion times better than Hansel and Gretel. That shouldn’t even need to be said. But there’s this little part of me that really wants to see an R-rated Avengers movie now. I mean, it would never happen in a million years. Still, it’d be pretty cool.
2. Anyway, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is only 88 minutes long, and it goes by pretty quickly. That makes for a pleasant change — you know a movie is pretty bad when it’s ninety minutes or less and still comes off as slow. On the other hand, there was a little voice inside my head crying for almost the entire 88 minutes because it’s just all . . . so . . . predictable. It’s almost a little painful, how obvious this movie can be.
We’ll talk more about them in the Spoiler Section, but our heroes have to uncover some Big Revelations, revelations that I very much doubt will surprise anyone who’s ever seen a movie before. I don’t even feel bad about referencing them here; that’s how predictable they are. However, if you were shocked by any plot twists in HaG:WH, be sure to let me know, and I’ll chalk this up to my simply being awesome instead of it all being so incredibly obvious.
(Honestly, though. There was a lot of impatient fingernail tapping while I waited at least an hour for Hansel to realize [spoiler redacted], something I suspected five minutes into the film and knew for sure five minutes later.)
3. It wasn’t just this movie’s predictability that made me cry a little on the inside. “Hansel and Gretel” is one of my favorite fairy tales of all time — I’ve got two entirely different writing projects devoted to it — and they change something about the story that, to me, is a pivotal piece of the work, something that’s just as important as the candy house or the witch baking in her own oven. And don’t get me wrong: I actually like changing up fairy tales. I don’t really see the point in retelling one if you aren’t going to do something new with it, but the actual thing they changed is one of the main reasons I like the story in the first place. So, that was sad.
4. On a positive note, I liked Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner well enough.
Arterton kind of annoyed me at first, but I got past it pretty quickly. I think it was her accent, honestly — it’s overly flat and makes her delivery sound a bit forced. Which isn’t entirely her fault; after all, everyone knows that all characters in a German story should speak with an English accent, and she’d have been right as rain if Jeremy Renner could’ve done an English one himself. (Admittedly, that’s not fair. Maybe Renner can do an awesome English accent, and the producers were just scared of making an action movie without an American lead. Either way, it’s totally ridiculous.)
Jeremy Renner, meanwhile, is basically doing what Jeremy Renner usually does. Which, hey. I like what Jeremy Renner usually does, so I’m okay with it. See Rule 3 of Casa Verde for clarification.
5. Also, I am always a fan when Famke Janssen pops up.
Three reasons for this:
A: She’s sexy as hell. (See my scathing review of X-Men: The Last Stand, whenever I eventually write one. I’ll work up to it. Quick preview, though? LEGS. My God. Janssen’s legs are almost as long as my entire body.)
B: Janssen was very candid about her reason for making the film: paying the mortgage. I like when actors are honest like that.
C: I think she gives good camp. It’s both phoned in and over-the-top and, somehow, it works for me. I don’t know if I’d put her in my Top 10 List of Campy Villains or anything . . . shit, I should actually make that list . . . but she wouldn’t be in the bottom ten, either. (Looking at you, Mr. Freeze.)
6. Hansel and Gretel share a room, which isn’t so surprising. But they don’t share the only bed in the room, which . . . kind of is. I mean, they’re siblings. (Shush! Never mind the fact that Jeremy Renner is fifteen years older than Gemma Arterton. Siblings!) It’s not like they’re going to get handsy with each other. One hopes.
Also, here’s what I want to know: does Hansel always take the floor? I bet he does. Chivalry is not dead! (It’s just stupid.)
7. Actually, there are many stupid things in this movie, things that cannot even be excused by campiness. I think I’ll wait to go over them but really. DUMB. Dumb dumb dumb. Also, there’s a minor dropped character, a geeky sidekick who’s actually more annoying than endearing, a badly edited prologue, and some more irritatingly predictable shit at the end. Because yes. This is a terrible movie. Really, let’s all be clear about that.
It’s just a terrible movie that knows it’s terrible and has the decency to be honest about it. Which, frankly, makes it a better film than Red Riding Hood, Van Helsing, Clash of the Titans, and Snow White and the Huntsman — all movies that weren’t very good and took themselves FAR too seriously. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may do many things wrong, but it never takes itself seriously.
It still could have been a lot better. But I’m grateful, at least, for that much.
We begin in the forest for obvious reasons.
The prologue is problematic. The only reason to even briefly retell a story that everyone already knows is to set up something new, but not much of importance really happens here. We do get to see Gretel stab the witch a few times before the kids shove her in the oven, which I guess is kind of cool because this is a pretty violent fairy tale, and I kind of like that they aren’t . . . heh . . . sugar-coating the children’s actions in it. Also, we learn that Hansel and Gretel are immune to magic. Which definitely is important, but it also could have been revealed later. And, frankly, better. The moment itself is none too impressive.
Perhaps Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) was worried about his mostly unnecessary prologue because he speeds through the source material in a matter of minutes. This makes complete sense . . . except that there are some seriously unfortunate editing choices which really make it seem like Hansel and Gretel walk for two minutes, find the witch’s house, kill their captor, and walk out alive in under an hour.
All of which makes Adult Hansel’s diabetes even more fucking ridiculous.
Yup. Due to this devastating sugar-induced trauma from childhood, Hansel now has
the sugar sickness diabetes and has to take regularly scheduled injections or HE DIES. Like, within thirty seconds. You’d think he might set his little pocket watch to warn him ten minutes or so before he’s going to collapse into a useless pile of quivering goo, but I guess that kind of forward thinking hasn’t been invented yet. Regardless, I’d really love to know how long Hansel had to be stuck in the cage eating candy to develop diabetes from it. Moreover, I wonder if Tommy Wirkola’s parents were the sort of duplicitous health food nuts who told him that too much candy in a single Halloween binge would cause insulin production problems.
Anyway, plot. Yes. The mayor of a small town hires the famous dynamic duo to track down a witch who has been stealing children from their homes. They meet immediate resistance in the form of the Sheriff (Peter Stormare), who is busy trying to drown a young, attractive woman named Mina. I mean, he’s not just doing it for shits and giggles. He suspects her of being a witch, and Stormare brings his usual scene-chewing goodness to the role as he speechifies about pacts with Satan and the like. Hansel and Gretel put a stop to that nonsense, of course, when Hansel clears Mina of being a witch. All witches are super ugly and have mutations and bad teeth and whatnot, so Mina simply can’t be a witch.
Of course, Mina is totally a witch. But she’s a white witch, the kind of good, magical soul who would never use her powers against another human being because white witches are
boring cliches pure of intent and thus super pretty. So sorry, ugly girls. Clearly, your face is a manifestation of your shriveled little heart. Everyone knows this.
(Man, I’m going to have to find that “Hansel and Gretel” project I never finished, the book of prose poems I started in college. There’s a whole section in there about this ugly/pretty magic bullshit. I should revisit it.)
Mina spends most of the movie flirting with Hansel or saving his life. (Or having sex with him in the Healing Waters, which honestly, I found kind of disappointing. I liked that Hansel was super awkward with Mina, like he spends so much time hunting witches with his sister that he doesn’t really bother dating much [or at all]. But then he just has sex with Mina in the magic pool and suddenly the awkwardness is all gone. Sad.) Mostly, though, she’s saving his life. As heroes go, Hansel’s not particularly self-reliant. Gretel’s not much better, only instead of a pretty girl, she gets a troll in shining armor. Literal troll, figurative shining armor. We’ll get back to that.
Hansel is also infuriatingly slow to catch on to Mina’s true nature — she pretty much has to bring him back for the dead before he’s like, “Wha . . . you’re a witch?!” And I’m like, “Look, I know this is a big deal for you, the existence of good witches and all, but it’s hard for me to be sympathetic when I knew Mina was a witch from almost the second I laid eyes on her.”
Hansel and Gretel also take far too long to discover that their mother was a white witch too, and that their parents abandoned them in an attempt to save their lives. (Cause Hansel’s in denial and can’t bear talking about Mommy and Daddy and blah blah blah. Man up, Hansel. When you and your sister are strangely immune to the magic of witches, you should probably look into it. Asshat.)
Oh, also, Gretel’s a witch, herself. Not that she does anything with this knowledge, mind. Gotta save something for the sequel. Oh, AND Evil Famke warned the torch-carrying villagers that H&G’s mom was a witch, meaning she was secretly responsible for the death of their parents all along!
A few things about all this:
1. Le sigh. More than anything else, I hate the ‘I was secretly responsible for the death of your parents all along’ trope. Be warned, writers: every time you utilize this trope in your own work, a baby panda dies alone.
2. While I saw it coming from a mile away, I hate that H and G’s parents abandoned their kids in order to save them. Other than just being a terrible message in general, this is the change that drives me nuts — it’s simply not “Hansel and Gretel” to me if the siblings aren’t forced to survive because their parents are terrible, terrible people. (Now, changing the ending of the fairy tale, that I’m okay with. The supposedly happy ending of that story is such crap.)
3. Of course, H + G’s parents may not be terrible in this film, but they are still pretty stupid. I know time is money when a mob is coming to burn you alive, but why exactly couldn’t Dad have said something like, “Hey, kids. Bad people are coming, so I need you to hide out here for a while. Also, witches live around these parts, and lots of them are pretty terrible. You probably shouldn’t just walk into a stranger’s house, especially if it’s made of candy.”
Takes less than fifteen seconds.
4. And continuing with the stupid — Hansel and Gretel’s mom almost certainly had the power to stop the villagers from burning her alive, but she didn’t use it because a white witch never uses her powers against another human. Which is some serious bullshit. These people are trying to KILL you — I think you’re well within your rights to at least attempt to whammy them a little.
But oh no, not you. Instead, you’re all noble, and what exactly does that get you? Dead. Crispy dead. Not to mention these people are the same assholes who murder your husband, who isn’t even a witch. Oh, and your kids are now alone in the woods, about to wander into a dark witch’s lair and scar themselves for life.
But that’s okay. You just go on being noble.
Hmmm . . . I appear to have a lost track of the story, haven’t I? Yes, well, okay. Hansel and Gretel investigate a little. (I’m using the word investigate loosely. They capture a minor witch who basically tells them everything they need to know, but in slightly vague language, so Gretel can look smart when she “figures it all out.”) Meanwhile, Evil Famke basically sets the town on fire. The mayor kind of disappears after all this, which is strange, considering. Turns out, Sheriff Stormare murders him, but the scene, unfortunately, got cut from the finished product. I know the guy’s a minor character and all, but he’s the reason Hansel and Gretel are even in this shitty little town in the first place. I think he’s important enough that he shouldn’t just vanish.
After the fire: Hansel and Gretel get separated, so Hansel can have some sexy times with his white witch, and a troll can rescue Gretel from Sheriff Stormare and his lackeys.
The troll — whose name is Edward, and also looks like he just escaped from The Labyrinth with his fists — smashes the men into smears of red paint. This is the scene that reminded me of an R-rated version of The Avengers — this is totally what the Hulk does to his enemies. We just don’t usually get to see the gory after-effects. (Dammit.)
Edward saves Gretel’s life — a couple of times, even — and later, she’ll save his. (With electroshock to the heart, via some kind of spiffy taser. Cause sure. Why not?) He’ll later become a sidekick, along with the geeky fanboy kid who I found more annoying than anything else. If we had to kill off anyone, couldn’t we have killed off him?
No, we need to be as predictable about this as humanely possible. So Mina, the white witch, has to go.
Back it up for a second: Evil Famke — I’m not worthy of looking up her character’s actual name — kidnaps Gretel with plans to sacrifice her on the blood moon. The blood moon itself appears without much warning. One second, it’s a perfectly normal night, and the next . . . RED FILTER
Just as terrible, if not worse: the blood moon gives way to total daylight in a matter of seconds. The entire thing — Middle of Night with Normal Moon, to Middle of Night with Blood Moon, to Total Fucking Daylight — takes place in less than five minutes. I have not seen such a bad transition between night and day since X-Men: The Last Stand. (Who would have thought I’d reference that movie twice in this review? Huh.)
Anyway, Evil Famke is sacrificing Gretel and all the kidnapped kids in order to cast a spell which will make her — and a whole bunch of other evil witches — immortal. I kind of glossed over this, but there’s like an army of evil witches hanging around the forest. Evil Famke is their leader, the Grand Witch — which mostly just means she can hide her true
soul face and look perty, whenever she wants.
Hansel and Mina come to the rescue. Everyone battles for a while. It’s fun. Eventually, Hansel, Gretel, Mina, and Evil Famke all end up at the candy house. Mina and Evil Famke square off, and there’s something kind of interesting about that, a non-fighter stepping up for the greater good and trying to battle with a dark witch. Of course, that just gets her dead. Which means Hansel can hold her dead body and look sad for approximately .0007 seconds before getting his I Will Avenge You game face on. And then no one will ever mention Mina again, even when they presumably step over her corpse whilst leaving the candy house.
The thing about Mina: this woman has absolutely no character. None. Zippo. Hansel saves her life in the beginning from Sheriff Stormare, and she’s so grateful that she spends the rest of the movie following his monosyllabic ass around, saving him from witches or fucking him in magical ponds. At least half her dialogue is exposition, and she only dies so Hansel can appear appropriately vengeful, as if he needs motivation for doing his job and stopping an evil witch who tried to kill his sister, not to mention a dozen children and countless others. Mina is simultaneously the most competent hero in the bunch and the most boring version of a Woman in a Refrigerator ever.
But hey. At least her hair always, always matches her dress.
Also, Vengeful Hansel storms in and immediately gets smacked in the face with a shovel, which was actually pretty funny. He and Gretel fight Evil Famke. At one point, Hansel has the upper hand, but oh noes! His inconvenient magical diabetes strikes! Thankfully, Gretel manages to inject him, and they continue to fight until they finally conquer Evil Famke for good. (Decapitation and roasting works wonders.)
In the epilogue, Hansel and Gretel continue fighting witches, only this time they’re in the desert, and they have Edward and Annoying Geeky Sidekick for company. Yay. That’s a sequel I can’t wait to see.
Le sigh. When will there be a good fairy tale movie? Please? Pretty please?
Hansel: “Whatever you do, don’t eat the fucking candy.”
Gretel: “Say your name before my arrows rip out your throat.”
Muriel: “I go by many names. None of which you are worthy of pronouncing.”
Hansel: “We learned a couple of things while we were trapped in that house. One, never walk into a house made of candy.”
Hansel: “That’s you . . . and some sort of vicious badger.”
Hansel: “Who the fuck is Edward?”
If you like watching intensely dumb, violent, fantasy-action movies that don’t take themselves seriously, you might enjoy this. If you like class or dignity, good god. Watch something else.
Do I have to? I mean, it’s not like anyone’s bringing their A-game here.
Ugly girls are evil. And white witches are pretty but, man, are they dumb.