Imagine a room in which every Hammer movie and every unabashedly cheesy '80s action movie and the one or two SyFy movies that actually worked out (Jersey Shore Shark Attack) got completely drunk and had a blast, and finally someone said, "You know, it's a shame about Van Helsing," and someone else was like, "It really is! It was just so SERIOUS," and someone else said, "Sometimes a B movie should just embrace what it is!" and someone else said, "Did you guys ever get a super incesty vibe from Hansel and Gretel?" and there was a long awkward pause until someone shouted "PERFECT" and then there was a huge party forever?
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the gleefully awful B-movie this genre has been waiting for - both self-aware and totally careless, and it is everything you could imagine from a movie whose every gesture asks, Is this what we really wanted from our slapdash and anachronistic fairy-tale adaptations?, and to which the answer is, My darling, what took you so long.
Here are ten things you should know about Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
1. Everything about this movie is completely bad. This is a movie whose thesis is "Witches are always evil and disgusting and should die, except when they're good witches which we never ever heard of until the few days in our adulthood depicted in this movie, and then they're pretty, because a lady's goodness can be directly measured by her looks, unless they're very powerful witches, in which case they can be pretty but it's just a TRICK, it's all just a TRICK, anyway here is a Gatling gun also a blood moon witchvention, have fun." And lo, the medieval German village siblings who have grown up to have inexplicable American accents (even though 'siblings' doesn't reference the age difference illustrating that being a 41-year-old man is the action-hero-prime equivalent of being a 26-year-old woman) shall accept that challenge, and prevail!
2. Because that, and everything about this movie, is completely hilarious. This movie Does Not Care, in a way that is probably best for this movie. Is Hansel literally old enough to be Gretel's father? Sure is! Are they American only because Jeremy Renner had no shot at a British accent? Of course! Are they going to wildly adjust the origin story of Hansel and Gretel but maintain the actual literal house made of candy? Absolutely! Are there fanboys approaching them on pub night? Naturally! Are there horse carts full of medieval Gatling guns ready to be blessed by fanboy Grimoire spells? What else? Do the witches' brooms make revving-motor noises? You bet! HAVE A B-MOVIE.
3. Possibly my favorite NotCaring bits are the many circulars and municipal publications floating around this remote German village in Ye Olde Times when we can safely assume general illiteracy. The opening credits are peppered with newspaper headlines accompanied by woodblock illustrations, front page after front page of "BRAVE ORPHANS KILL SWAMP WITCH," "ORPHANS RID VILLAGE OF WITCH" (their PR team was really hitting the Orphans angle). There are Ye Olde Missing Personnes sketches for each of the village children! Some are part of their police files, and others strapped to milk bottles, in this very small village where everyone knows everyone already but we still have Lost Children posters (oh god this movie is amazing).
4. Speaking of Famke Janssen, rent was due, and it's perfect. She's the Supreme Grand Witch, and shrugs her way through her blessed-awful subplot with just the right balance of scenery-chewing and I Just Got My Sides This Morning lassez-faire. "So, the blood moon means we should kill these twelve kids, and also eat the heart of Gretel, I guess! Come, nameless sidekick witch associates! WE FLY!"
5. Yes, Gretel is the key! Turns out their mother sent them away not because she was evil, but because she was a powerful white witch and the townspeople were coming to burn her, and so she sent her kids and their supposed magical talents into the woods via their dad, neither of whom ever explained anything that was happening or told them anything that might behoove them in terms of using their powers for their safety or whatever, which seems like a level of irresponsible parenting that is barely any better than the original story. Sure, witch magic doesn't work on them, but it's something they literally do not discuss, as Hansel reminds everyone whenever anyone including Gretel brings it up, and is apparently something no one has ever investigated to any degree whatsoever. (Though that's of a piece; when Hansel and Gretel learn about their witch heritage, it leads to zero self-reflection, or even trying to learn how to channel magic for good in the fight against bad witches. They continue to just punch witches to death, because Who Cares.)
6. Speaking of not caring, yes, Hansel and Gretel are this film's romantic leads. With each other. Who Cares! They barely do! It's subtext for a while (they make sure to show you Hansel sleeping on the floor of their room, which anyone who has ever seen TV or a movie recognizes as the Only One Room Only One Bed Gambit). But eventually they reunite after a battle by rolling around and pressing their faces really close together and breathing heavily and staring at each other, and you accept what the movie has been casually telling you.
Portrait of Hansel and Gretel reading their first fanparchment, 14mumblemumble.
7. That doesn't stop this film from trying to give them romantic subplots, though, because we have 80 minutes to fill and we only paid to choreograph three witch fights! Specifically, about a third of the way through, Hansel is wooed by a nice lady, Mina, who rescues him from the aftermath of a fight and brings him to a waterfall pool to clean his wounds. After bringing out the immortal pickup chestnut, "The water is healing," they submerge and go for it. (At the same time, Gretel is rescued from the murderous Sheriff "I Will Do Anything, My Resume is an Enigma" Peter Stormare by a huge troll who King Kong carries her to a different pond to clean HER wounds, where everyone including Gretel seems to be waiting for him to suggest, "THE WATER IS HEALING." He doesn't; he just says he helped her because trolls serve witches, and wanders off. Questions she asks him include: "What's your name?" and "Where am I?" Questions she does not ask include: "Wait, am I a witch?" Who Cares?)
8. Mina is, coincidentally, the one Gretel and Hansel saved from being burned at the movie's opening, because she was clearly pretty and therefore not a witch. (Never gets old!) But as it turns out, she is one! A good witch! That's very nice. Then she gets fridged while saving Hansel from Grand High Famke, because literally all witches must die no matter what except Gretel, and also because this movie ships Hansel and Gretel That Much.
9. Speaking of rescue, they are both rescued by tertiary characters a lot. I mean, for a pair of kids who have spent all this time fighting witches, there is a marked lack of skill. Lack of oxygen from those leather doublets? Maybe, but that seems too easy. Attempt to raise the narrative stakes? Possible, except there really aren't any, by design, so the fight scenes just feel like the demo at the beginning of your arcade game where you'd like to be interested but you already know it's just foolin'. I guess they just forgot to learn how to actually succeed in a fight against witches during all that time in their formative years they spent tossing weapons to each other and practicing quips.
10. Of the quips, perhaps the one that best encapsulates the feeling of this movie is the quip delivered when they each, at different times, must approach the candy house that was the scene of their childhood trauma, the event that confirmed to them they were without parental protection forever, and that adults were often terrifying specters in a dangerous world in which they were utterly alone. How will they react to seeing such a viscerally formative place again?
Each one, when their turn comes, in a tone redolent of mid-career Bruce Willis: "You gotta be fuckin' kidding me." *shrug* *proceed*
And it is, and they do, and that is pretty much the movie.
There's clearly a rev-up for a sequel at the end, when they're trudging through a desert, having adopted the fanboy as a sidekick and troll Edward as the brawn/cart horse (but not that nice witch lady, Death to Witches!), but rest assured that this movie stands on its own as a B-movie salute to B-movies that is awful, and knows it, and loves it.