Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Reworking fairy tales has become very common and I highly suspect that the producer and director of Hansel & Gretel:Witch Hunters, fully expected to cash in on the recent public desire to see a new spin on classic stories.  Unfortunately, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, functions as I guide of how to get it all wrong in an hour and twenty-eight minutes. 

Hansel and Gretel are left in the woods by their father one night.  Alone and scared, they walk until they come across a house made of candy.  They are promptly captured by a witch and Hansel is forced to eat candy, when Gretel is threatened with a knife. The two manage to stuff the witch into her own oven and then grow up to be witch hunters.  When children start to disappear from a small town, Hansel and Gretel are tasked with bringing them back alive and figuring out what the witches are up to.

The largest problem with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, is that it cannot seem to decide if it wants to be camp or taken seriously as a drama.  This indecision led to a movie with a weak plot, filled with language that vacillated continually. Gretel and Hansel interrupt a sheriff who is accusing a young woman of witchcraft and Gretel says, “Let the woman go, or I’ll blow your fucking brains all over these hillbillies.”  Umm, where and when is this movie taking place again? Well, if we're not really in 18th century Germany, where are we? From this line, you begin to expect a comedic spoof with action thrown in but Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, is not even barely amusing. The movie essentially is a leap from one action scene to another.  If you go into Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters expecting more than that, you will be sorely disappointed.

Normally, when a movie is this bad, there is a tendency to blame the actors but in the case, Jeremy Renner (Hansel) and Gemma Arterton (Gretel) could not save this plot from itself.  In fact, watching the ever so handsome Renner, helped ward off a little of the boredom that had me mentally whining about a refund. When a movie cannot even stick to its own cannon for hour and twenty-eight minutes, there is a problem.  On one hand we are told that Black magic will not work against a White witch but inexplicably it does, in order to set up the death of Mina (read: the white witch), to provide Hansel with the final drive to defeat Muriel (read: the black witch).

The fact that this movie is entitled Hansel & Gretel would lead one to believe that we are being presented with a movie in which there is an equal partnership between the protagonist but Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, even managed to fail at that. While it was absolutely clear that Hansel saw his sister as an equal partner, Gretel was placed repeatedly in situations where she had to be saved. This, coupled with the fact that all the witches were women, really centered a lot of the storyline around violence against women.  It was unsettling to watch as Gretel was soundly beaten by the sheriff and though she was the antagonist, watching Hansel repeatedly punch Mina, while she was tied up was beyond problematic.  Even in the rare few moments when witches did get the upper hand, no man was threatened with violence at the same level.

Women were further explicitly divided into good and bad through employing of the terms black and white to describe the magic they practiced.  White witches were depicted as nurturing and kind whereas; black witches were power hungry and actively desired the sacrifice of children.  This very much amounted to disciplining by gender.  To be accepted as good, women had to perform a very specific form of femininity and the fact that this was heavily tied to a desire to nurture
spoke volumes about intent. No such labels applied to men, nor were was there an explicit explanation of what constituted a good man.

As aforementioned, though this is the story of Hansel & Gretel, the language employed really made it questionable regarding the time and location of the story, thus making it completely unreasonable to have an all White, straight cast. Not even in the background scenes, could a person of colour be seen.  This is absolute erasure and given Hansel & Gretel:Witch Hunters diversion from the traditional plot of the fairy tale, I have to wonder what justification could possibly exist for the erasure.

If you are looking for a movie that perhaps resembles Once Upon A Time, or even The Princess Bride, then Hansel & Gretel:Witch Hunters is not for you. It's an action film poorly sold as a revamped traditional fairytale.  Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is also an abject lesson about the fact that special effects can only take you so far.