Posted by: smirkdirk | January 27, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – Smirk and Dirk: Auteur Hunters

2 out of 5 Cookies

It’s an old refrain these days that when movie studios have no idea what to do with a movie they dump it into theatres in January and February when it can do the least amount of harm. Some take this to mean that January and February movies are just plain bad – which is not always the case. Sometimes you can find some cool, quirkirific movies in the doldrums of winter that have been placed there because, well, there’s no other place for them. But yeah, a lot of times the January movies are just plain bad, or at the very least, mediocre. Such is the case with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

The movie starts right up with a reminder of the fairy tale: Two kids are left in the woods by their father. They come upon a witch’s candy house and no sooner than they start eating on it, the front door mysteriously opens, and they walk right in like a couple of dopes. These opening scenes are done fairly well. The inside of the house is all shadows cast by a haunting fire in the oven. Spooky. The witch is sufficiently frightening. The make-up and monstrosity in the movie are done convincingly and well, with the exception of one of the minor witches who actually plays a relatively large role and has short spikey hair and just seems a little out of place among the ghastliness they achieved with all of the other witches.

In the opening scenes no mention is made of the trail of bed crumbs, and the weeks of forced feedings to fatten them up are inferred, but not shown. The movie wants to skip right ahead to their adulthood because none of these things really matter to it. They’re just set up. However, it does seem like a missed opportunity, and they could have expanded a bit on the fattening up process over two or three minutes. As long as it wants to pillage the horror genre on its way to the action genre, they may as well have had some horrific, fairytale child torture.

After the intro the animated credits start up. An amusing montage of Hansel and Gretel’s various witch hunting exploits. I often wonder why credit sequences, most of them actually done independent of the rest of the movie, never really get the respect they deserve. There should be an Oscar.

So yeah, the credits end and the movie begins in earnest and you get exactly what the previews promised. A January movie in which the characters speak in one-liners, with no respect to the time period they’re in, with an “Oh fuck me” thrown in occasionally to get a chuckle out of the contemporary audience. There’s lots of action mixed in – fights, fights and more fights – some of them done entertainingly like a witch chase through a forest early in the film, but most of them done with lots of cutting to suggest a WWE wrestling match. We’re introduced to a Troll who seems to be a combination of costume, robotic prosthetics, and CGI who is neat to look at. I whispered to Mrs. that he looked a lot like our Boxer, Buddy. She agreed.

Jeremy Renner who I only know from The Hurt Locker does what he can, but let’s face it, the dude’s not an action hero. Gemma Arterton who I’ve seen before but can’t place, actually does a better job. She occasionally gives the other characters around her a deadpan expression that’s funny. Being able to tell other people that they’re idiots with merely a look is quite a talent and I wonder if she uses it in real life.

But the real show stealer here is Famke Janssen who plays the villain. Although most of the time she’s covered in white witch make up, you can still see her MILFy self having a lot of fun being evil. I’m actually surprised an actress with a bit more name recognition didn’t step up just for the hell of it. It seems to me that for an actor, being the villain rocks. It occurred to me while I was watching that I could have totally seen Demi Moore in the role. Considering all of the tabloid BS she’s got going on the last two years, casting herself as a MILF witch could have been a statement of some sort depending on how she hammed it up.

I noticed during the opening credits that this movie was actually made by a writer/director I’d never heard of before, Tommy Wirkola. I always give writer/directors a little extra credit just because they tend to be auteur. A writer/director presumably has lived and breathed their project for a good long while – years – before it ever sees the light of day. Whether you’re talking about respected writer/directors like Woody Allen, or those a little less respected like, say, Ed Wood – either way, we have a movie that has been distilled through the singular focus of one person, and thus is not only a product, but perhaps a personal statement of sorts.

In regards to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the fact that Wirkola is virtually unknown, I doubt that this movie really represents his original vision and script. I have no problem imagining movie executives, studio slackers, and focus groups corrupting it into the mass audience, action/horror, derivative movie he ended up with.

Wirkola is from Norway and is also the writer/director of the Norwegian movie Dead Snow – a better movie than Hansel and Gretel and, lucky for you, it’s on Netflix Instant. It concerns some young people in a winter cabin being terrorized by Nazi Zombies. ‘Nuff said. As you can imagine it’s a horror/comedy. But what it does differently is that it manages to take its horror/humor premise and gradually do away with the humor leaving the nervous laughter of pure horror. It’s skillfully written in a way that Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not, and will leave you wondering what could have been.

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