Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or so the old adage goes. It must be said, however, Tommy Wirkola‘s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters never even looked much on paper; and regrettably, the finished film is unlikely to win you over on celluloid.
Despite beginning somewhat conventionally with Hansel and Gretel lost in the forest and stumbling upon a gingerbread house – albeit, one that resembles a day-glow-acrylic cast off from Tim Burton‘s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale is ruthlessly cut down and condensed into only a pre-credits ‘origins’ slot in Witch Hunters.
Certainly, it’s pretty clear even at this early stage that Wirkola isn’t a director particularly in love with his source material. Which is fine. Or it at least would be, if this re-imagining had ambitions slightly beyond being a stunted, nu metal blast ’em up for pre-pubescent boys.
Then again, Witch Hunters never promised much in terms of subtlety or refinement. Though the premise of the film – an adult Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) hunting witches for gold – offered at least some dumb-fun potential. The problem is, even if viewed as little more than filmic chewing gum for your brain, Witch Hunters still manages to poke itself repeatedly in the eye with a wand.
The special effects and makeup are ghastly in all the wrong ways, while the witch hunting itself feels strangely flat – failing to deliver much in the way of drama or exhilaration. The latter, a damning indictment and the one thing Wirkola really needed to get right.
For all its faults, Witch Hunters is never completely unwatchable. Though labelling it especially watchable seems equally wide of the mark. Wirkola’s hack ‘n’ slash fairy tale might sit well with gore-hungry tweens, but Witch Hunters is, nevertheless, cookie-cutter entertainment – rather than the tasty slab of gingerbread you’d hope for.