Sunday, 26 April 2015

Hansel & Gretel : Witch Hunters (2013)

Tommy Wirkola is a prime example of a non mainstream quirky and original talent 'emigrating' to the US and getting totally lost in the Hollywood machine.

In his native Norway he created the deeply trashy but rather fun horror B-movie, Dead Snow, whose strapline 'Undead Nazi Bastards' is still one I enjoy as being a prime example of calling a spade a spade. However something got terribly lost in translation for his first US film, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, though it is baffling to think just how it managed to go so disastrously wrong.

The film has a great cast; the divine Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare, a bigger budget than Wirkola had previously experienced, and a release date which meant it was riding high on the wave of the latest penchant for steampunk and revisionist fairy tales, which with the tantalising possibility of such fare being handled by a Norwegian whose childhood was no doubt steeped in such stories and myths, surely meant we were in for an enjoyable ride?

But this was a back firing non starter of a knackered old jalopy.

So why was it so crappy?

Wirkola’s film takes the classic Grimm fairytale of a young brother and sister lost in the woods who arrive at a gingerbread house and are immediately in danger for their lives thanks to an evil cannibal witch. His spin is that thanks to this admittedly traumatising experiences the siblings grew up to become ruthless and merciless witch hunters, determined to rid the Medieval European villages of witches. Now, whether you buy into this rather bombastic development and premise depends on what your gauge is for silly when it comes to entertainment but I for one was fully prepared and hoping for something not unlike the classic kitsch 70s Hammer Horror Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. But sadly what we get is actually a rather empty, loud whizz bang affair that struggles to keep its feet in two camps; the quirky Euro sensibility Wirkola naturally has and the desire to please the American popcorn market, with a liberal dash of emo.

This is especially prominent in the fact that British actress Arterton has to deliver her lines in a rather poor and restless US accent to fit alongside Renner as her sibling, as opposed to Renner adopting some RP English like her Prince Of Persia co-star Jake Gyllenhaal had done. This wouldn't be too bad if both stars had a little chemistry in their ass kicking partnership but they do not - though they seemed to have more off screen when appearing on The Graham Norton Show -  and, though they equip themselves very well in the action stakes (I especially enjoyed Arterton headbutting Stormare) at times it feels like they're performing in different films. Somewhere the story - such as it is - gets lost too and there's little for an audience to invest in at all beyond the next CGI heavy set piece and glib one liner.

Maybe if this was produced in his native country for a fraction of the budget with complete unknowns it could have been another cult favourite, but in the big spotlight of Hollywood its just a flimsy, barely considered mess.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that Wirkola's next venture after this flop was a sequel to Dead Snow.

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