Fear a Steady Diet of Movies Like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Steven Spielberg and his jaunty little apologue about the 16th president of the United States aside, it's no longer enough in movies for a historical figure or literary character to do simple stuff like abolish slavery or find a man of intelligence and character. Abraham Lincoln is reduced to slaying vampires. Elizabeth Bennet is stuck fighting off zombies. And Hansel and Gretel, having already suffered the indignity of being abandoned in the woods by lousy parents, can't just kill off one cannibalistic witch and call it a day: In Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, they've grown up to become bounty hunters who must roam the land, kicking gnarly witch butt.
Actually, according to this assertively revisionist reading of the Brothers Grimm, young Hansel and Gretel were led into the woods by their parents for a very good reason, having to do with the naked ambition of a very bad witch, Muriel (Famke Janssen). As it turns out, the grown versions of Hansel and Gretel, now celebrity witch hunters — they're played by Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner — have been brought to a small village to find the crone who's been snatching the local children, and damned if it isn't Muriel herself, accompanied by a whole coven of evildoing uglies in makeup left over from The Devil's Rain.
The point, maybe, is that we're supposed to take great pleasure in watching these nasty old gals being fried to death or blown to smithereens with a medieval Gatling gun. But there's actually no pleasure at all to be had in this Hansel & Gretel, which was directed by Tommy Wirkola, whose previous credits include the 2009 Nazi-zombie horror comedy Dead Snow. (He also wrote the script.) The violence here is cartoonishly bloody without being exhilarating. The plot is as misshapen as a mutant gingerbread boy. And, at least as it was shown at the multiplex where I saw it, the picture has a dank, murky look, as if it had been left under a pile of mulch to marinate for a decade or two.