Haunted by a nasty childhood experience with an evil witch and a house made out of confectionery, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton and her duck face) have turned into bounty hunters as adults, now tracking down and killing witches all over Europe. In the town of Augsburg they take on the assignment of tracking and killing the witch who has abducted the town’s children to prepare for an upcoming Blood Moon ritualistic sacrifice. Famke Janssen plays Muriel, a powerful witch with a past slowly revealed, whilst the always nutty Peter Stormare plays the nasty local sheriff who takes an instant dislike to Hansel and Gretel after they interfere in a would-be witch-burning where Hansel thinks the intended guilty party is likely innocent.
A sure-fire turd of the first order...wait, this film actually isn’t bad? Colour me seriously surprised. The ads made this 2013 film from writer/director Tommy Wirkola (whose “Dead Snow” was a disappointing Nazi zombie flick that nonetheless was enjoyed by many other people) look like a terrible, anachronistic “Men in Black”-esque treatment of the well-known Grimm fairy tale. Hell, I was surprised to find it wasn’t a Summit Entertainment film, assuming that it was a follow-up to their terrible tweener version of “Red Riding Hood”. It certainly looked moronic and I felt embarrassed for Jeremy Renner participating in it, after great work in “The Hurt Locker” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”. It’s not a good film by any means, but if I gave “Arctic Predator” a decent rating, I have to do the same for this watchable fantasy flick. It’s not better than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (which is probably its closest cinematic approximation) nor the underrated “Jonah Hex”, but you could do a lot worse (“Van Helsing”, anyone?), and I was expecting the worst.
The prologue, essentially giving as the Hansel & Gretel story as we know it is good fun. The trademark gingerbread house looks like Tim Burton’s vision of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but it is far more appropriate here. Of all the Grimm fairytales, this one has always seemed the darkest and most sinister to me, and early on that’s how it’s played. The title design with Grimm illustrations/animation is really terrific, and by and large the film is certainly more convincing and lively than “Red Riding Hood” or Terry Gilliam’s messy “Brothers Grimm”. It’s still a silly film that Renner’s services are clearly too good for, I can’t deny. Gemma Arterton is astoundingly stiff, and Famke Janssen is surprisingly awful as the chief villainess (apparently she took the role to pay off a mortgage- fair enough, but she’s worse than the film itself. I must admit, though I couldn’t help but ask ‘How do you know she is a witch?’ at several points- Monty Python fan right here, folks. The witches in this are just awful, cackling, throaty-voiced clichés that made me groan whenever they appeared.
The set design and costuming are top-notch, it’s surprisingly violent at times (decapitations- yay!), and the CGI troll is bloody good CG work. Hell, it’s more convincing than anything in “The Hobbit” not named Gollum, that’s for sure and knocks Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” out of commission too. Even the face is relatively convincing, and that’s awfully hard to achieve (once again, “King Kong”).
Look, if Arterton had more than one facial expression other than ‘just smelled a fart’ (why not just hire Posh Spice? She’s just as flat and stiff), If Janssen and the other witches were better, then this would be pretty good instead of just barely above average. Still, when you’re expecting the worst, ‘barely above average’ ain’t bad. Peter Stormare ends up rather wasted, however, after an amusing early stint.