Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Unsatisfying horror, comedy and action combo starring Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is the dunderheaded English-language debut of Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola (best known for highly entertaining Nazi zom-com Dead Snow). Despite a promisingly (and characteristically) daft concept it's a film that lacks a definitive identity; it's neither horror, nor comedy nor action but an unsatisfying combination of the three.
At first things seem pretty familiar: after being abandoned in the woods by their father, the titular siblings happen upon a cottage crafted from candy. On entering they're seized by an evil witch who they end up burning in her own oven (Hansel quips: 'If you're gonna kill a witch, set her ass on fire'). When we next meet them they've grown into Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, a pair of formidable bounty hunters who show up in a woodland settlement to rid the townsfolk of a plague of child-snatching witches, led by Muriel (Famke Janssen). Complicating matters is an implausibly belated revelation regarding their mother, while Hansel finds romance with the mysterious Mina (Finnish actress Pihla Viitala).
Unfortunately Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is characterised by its disappointments. The leads lack chemistry and their po-faced, somewhat lacklustre performances fail to fit with the film's attempt at an irreverent tone - although their foe Janssen pitches her wicked witch spot-on. The scant shots at humour fall flat and perversely - given the subject matter and potential for three-dimensional threat - the film is entirely free from frights. And save a few bombastic, CGI-heavy action sequences for the most part Wirkola's fourth film is just not very exciting, crying out for some of the anarchy that peppered Dead Snow. At best it's an intermittent assault on the senses but even that's not nearly as fun as it sounds.
General release from Wed 27 Feb.