After Norwegian Nazi zombie flick Dead Snow (2009) was devoured by horror fans, the good people at Paramount Pictures decided to give writer-director Tommy Wirkola $50 million to make Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D (2013); an ill-conceived and frequently abysmal mash-up of the suitably grim Brothers Grimm (2005), and the godforsaken Van Helsing (2004). Abandoned by their father in the forest, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) stumble upon a gingerbread house and are captured by an evil witch. After plying them with candy to fatten them up for the spit, our dynamic duo manage to turn the tables and throw the witch into the oven.
Inspired by their clutched victory, Hansel and Gretel decide to become witch hunters for hire (!?) and set off around Europe dispatching old women in increasingly elaborate ways. First – the good news. Renner delivers a couple of funny one-liners and the premise is not as ridiculous as you might think. In fact, if Wirkola had been working with the constraints of a smaller budget as he was with Dead Snow, he could have easily taken his material in an Evil Dead II (1987) direction – which he most certainly should have done.
Instead, we get a streamlined and steam-cleaned studio product that can’t decide if it’s an adult horror or a children’s fantasy. Neither Renner nor Arterton are particularly bad, but surely neither of them looked at the script for Hansel & Gretel and thought it a classic. Then again, Arterton has also starred in the creatively impoverished Clash of the Titans (2010) and Prince of Persia (2010), so either she has a fetish for flimsy action adventures or she needs to sack her agent. Peter Stormare is underused and Famke Janssen overacts, but it’s the introduction of Edward the Ogre (Robin Atkin Downes) that finally convinces you that this film is a waste of everyone’s time – and that the burden of responsibility for this dog’s dinner must lie firmly with Wirkola.
The best you can say about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is that it’s a difficult film to hate. Yet on the hand, however, it’s also an impossible film to love. Wirkola’s latest works on one level – as being nothing more than 88 minutes of mindless, escapist entertainment – but all any viewer worth their salt will see is an instantly forgetful waste of talent and money.