We need to talk. Right now. There’s something I absolutely, positively need to get straight. Do you guys even remotely care what I think? No. Seriously. Do you care at all, like even a shred? I ask this very sincerely because last summer when I raved on another site about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter being a blast, no one saw it and once it hit DVD everyone was SHOCKED that I didn’t tell them how good it was when I actually HAD done so right off the bat. The same thing with Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. Now it’s kind of the same way with The Last Stand, which tanked last weekend. Now, none of these films had the Red-Band trailer and goofy hoopla that surrounds this weekend’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and I fear that it will make probably four times what The Last Stand will make in its entire opening run in its opening day.
Why does this bum me out? Because for some reason the film lends itself very well to cutting a great trailer and the title alone has sparked a considerable amount of curiosity even among friends that I admire to go and see this thing opening weekend, and all I can think of is how disappointed I am in everyone and everything around me when this is the kind of stupidity we choose to celebrate. If one were to look up the word “clusterfuck” in the dictionary it would come with a picture of the poster for this dreadfully unfunny, oddly sleazy, tone deaf, monotonous film that actively made me feel like my life was slowly wasting away. On the bright side, it is still better than Parker, which doesn’t even make it the worst movie out this week. But neither are better than A Haunted House (which, not surprisingly, also stinks) and that should really say something overall about what a rough week this is to go to the movies. (Note: Movie 43 wasn’t screened for press at all, so you guys are going in at your own risk on that one.)
After being abandoned in the woods by their soon to be killed father, a young Hansel and Gretel happen upon the famed candy house in the middle of the dark part of the woods, and aside from the house nothing else from the famed Grimm fairy tale remains. Now grown up Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have become gun toting ass kickers looking to rid the world of all witches. A trip to a town where all of the children have gone missing ultimately leads to the brother and sister finding out the truth about where they came from.
I don’t even know where to possibly begin with this one, but five minutes into the film anyone who knows how a film is actually made will be able to see the most glaring of the film’s faults: it has absolutely no tone because no one is on the same page for even a single second. The pre-title backstory establishing sequence lurches so uneasily between camp, whimsy, outright horror, sleazy exploitation, purposeful comedy, and genuinely trying to be bad that it doesn’t feel so much like a set up but a cacophony of noise to acclimate the audience for what’s to come.
Produced quite bizarrely by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (yes, the ones you are all thinking of) it’s obvious that they saw some amount of humour in the script, and from hearing the dialogue its obvious that the film was always meant to be an outright comedy in the same vein as last year’s lesser but infinitely more badass Lincoln film. The hiring of Tommy Wirkola – the man behind the cult Nazi zombie flick Dead Snow – also sounded like a great idea on paper.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line Wirkola must have figured out that this kind of humour wasn’t his strong suit and he actually makes the fatal attempt to try and make a serious horror film out of this. The result is kind of akin to being in a bounce house during an earthquake. Scenes that could actually be funny are ruined often seconds later by having a tearful boy being forced into killing his mother with a shotgun for no reason and then forgetting all about them to go straight into a poorly executed and really crappily choreographed and incoherently edited action sequences.
This sense of not having any clue what’s going on also slops over onto the actors involved, all of whom seem like they are from a completely different film. Renner only seems engaged when there are comedic elements because that would wisely be the film he signed up to do. When the action hits, he’s so clearly only putting in the absolute bare minimum that it’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy. Arterton plays a character who does a bunch of the heavy dramatic lifting here, but she’s always being relegated to taking a back seat to the admittedly decent creature effects or she’s being forcefed unfunny, hammy dialogue that’s trying way too hard for camp appeal. Famke Janssen gets put to okay use as the main villainess, but she can only do so much. Ditto Peter Stormare as the jealous town sheriff, who gives a typically good performance even in a film like this where he has absolutely nothing at all to do. The only person who gets a chance to shine is the usually underrated Thomas Mann as a local fanboy of the duo because he’s playing the comedic relief in a movie that should already be funny enough to not need that character in the first place.
Things blow up, limbs fly around, people get decapitated, and all amounts of gore and viscera get splashed and played with gleefully by the effects crew. There’s plenty of fire, and hangings, and even some nudity. Not once was I ever genuinely entertained beyond a chuckle of a single line reading at a given time. Not for a single second did I ever care about a single thing that happened to any of these characters or what their plight was about. This is Michael Bay Transformers styled filmmaking disguised as camp, and it doesn’t feel like any less of a cheat here. The idea and conceit that a “good bad” movie could be made simply with a goofy title, a tweaked premise, and a bunch of pyrotechnics doesn’t mean a damn thing if it isn’t in service of something. This is empty, hollow, shallow work when we’ve had plenty of great cheeseball action films and comedies in the past year that no one remotely gave a damn about.
Getting back to my original point that got me so pissed off while watching this film in the first place: If you see and like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and you like it, I am happy for you. You found something that made you feel good for 88 minutes because a bunch of shit happened that you find entertaining. I’m not one to judge personal taste because that’s all subjective. If you are a part of the population that quite literally and very basically just wants to see shit happen for the sake of seeing shit happen, you will not be cheated out of your money. But there is no way in hell or on earth that you’ll ever convince me that this is a legitimately good movie because it unequivocally isn’t. It throws literally everything at the wall and it doesn’t care if nothing sticks. When we live in a world where unpretentious but generally well constructed films like Abe Lincoln, Last Stand, and even Dredd get unceremoniously dismissed, but something like this can potentially become a hit (forecasters are already saying it’s primed to take the top spot at the box office this weekend), there’s something wrong, and like a concerned parent I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed. And as you all know, that’s far, far worse.
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