Any time you know a film has been sitting on the studio’s shelf for over year, has been given the post-production 3D conversion, and then gets released in January, it usually spells certain death. Any time the film winds up being the final product that is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, is another story. Here’s a film that’s been getting raked over the coals in release scheduling hell. Not to mention the studio had two cuts of the film screening to preview audiences, trying to decide whether to go with a safer PG-13 or go balls out with director Tommy Wirkola’s original R-rated version. Having finally seen the end product, Paramount Pictures has chosen wisely with the R-rated cut and audiences are in for a bigger treat than they could have ever imagined.
In this update of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale, young Hansel (Cedric Eich) and Gretel (Alea Sophia Boudodimos) are taken out into the forest by their father (Thomas Scharff) under the order of their mother Adrianna (Kathrin Kühnel). Alone and afraid, we all know they’re about to wind up at a witch’s candy house where they will throw her into a fire. But now the story moves forward to “many years later” as we find out that Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are all grown up and have a huge bone to pick with witches practicing the black arts. This leads them to the town of Ausburg, under the ruling thumb of Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), whether Mayor Engleman (Rainer Bock) likes it or not.
Hansel and Gretel show up just in time to save the life of a red-haired maiden named Mina (Pihla Viitala) who Berringer is accusing of being a witch. Upon inspection she is released from being drowned in a bucket in the town square. Mina begins to follow Hansel’s every move as he and his sister investigate the disappearance of 11 children. They soon learn that a Grand Witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen) is leading a pack of fellow witches to gather the children before the Blood Moon in three nights time to use their blood for a potion that will make them invincible. Turns out, the only missing ingredient is more than a 12th child and puts Hansel and Gretel up against greater odds than they ever could have imagined. Now they must band together with their biggest fan Ben (Thomas Mann) and a troll named Edward (played by Derek Mears but voiced by Robin Atkin Downes) to stop Muriel and her coven of witches.
My expectations were way higher than anyone else’s walking into Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, but only based on director Wirkola’s previous film, Dead Snow, a zombie comedy action film that I missed during the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. That movie was full of all kinds of hilarious movie references, skewered traditional horror tropes, and packed with plenty of gory action. I had even higher hopes when I found out the producers were Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and Chris Henchy who brought us the hilarious buddy-cop movie The Other Guys.
Imagine my delight as I laughed throughout and cringed at gore on the level of anything the Final Destination franchise has brought. Maybe Wirkola should be brought in for the next installment. I can only imagine that it would be the most blood soaked yet! The two funniest jokes involve faces of the missing children attached to milk bottles and the fact that Hansel is diabetic. “When I was younger, a witch made me eat too much candy,” he tells Mina after beginning to go into diabetic shock. But the biggest surprise was that it was screened in IMAX 3D for us along with an exclusive clip from Paramount’s upcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Talk about a treat. As my guest said after it was over, “My inner eight-year-old has a boner.” Consider us sold. Even the 3D conversion here is a pretty big success and looks really good.
So check your expectations at the door and make sure you don’t miss what will surely be the year’s biggest surprise as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is gory, foul-mouthed, action packed, and hilarious. I loved it.
Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures