Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters    
Directed by Tommy Wirkola      
Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Jennsen, Peter Stormare       
88 minutes,  2013      

As the fairy tale goes, Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the forest by their father and end up kidnapped by a witch who imprisons them in her marzipan house. The children manage to kill the witch and become famous as invincible witch hunters — which is why they are summoned to Ausburg, a town where many children have disappeared… Hansel and Gretel begin to investigate, but behind the abductions is a powerful grand-witch who knows many secrets hidden in their past…

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The movie is written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, a Norwegian director, who also directed Dead Snow, a horror movie that is among the top ten zombie movies. The unexpected success of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters comes from its cheerful cheekiness that is typical of certain graphic novels and from its remarkable cast, especially Jeremy Renner (Hansel) and Gemma Arterton (Gretel).

Another characteristic reminiscent of the graphic novel is the abundant usage of violence, changing the story from a fable into a product that is inappropriate for families.

The story respects all the stereotypes of the fairy tale (witches are evil and eat children) and makes the most of 3D by using many spectacular and violent action shots, as well as some fun modernizing details (like the face of the kidnapped children on the milk bottle label, the blessed guns, and a syringe full of the drug Hansel needs to fight the diabetes he got as a child eating all those sweets in the witch’s house).

While Wirkola’s humor and style are not refined, they are quite original, and he manages to surprise viewers, especially in the end when he reveals Hansel and Gretel’s hidden secrets using stereotypes from horror and Western movies. Hansel and Gretel are bounty hunters (hunting witches instead of outlaws) and they immediately fight with the local sheriff to prevent him from hanging an innocent, beautiful girl accused of witchcraft. They go to drink at the tavern and meet another entertaining character: a boy who approaches them for their autographs and shows them the album where he has saved all the “newspaper” articles about them.

Hansel and Gretel see the world in black and white (after all, they have been abandoned by their own father), and, as Hansel says, the only good witch is a dead witch. However, they will find out that truth lies beyond their own beliefs and imaginations (eg, an apparently evil troll ready to redeem himself after meeting Gretel, and a white witch who falls in love with Hansel).

If you don’t expect too much from this action-comedy, and your stomach isn’t too weak, you will certainly enjoy the movie. It is not surprising that a sequel is already in the works: Hansel and Gretel still have much to do… 

Problematic elements: many scenes of violence, a scene of nudity.

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...