Movie Review

Beyond the gingerbread house: ‘Hansel & Gretel’

Gemma Arterton plays Gretel and Jeremy Renner is Hansel.
Paramount Pictures
Gemma Arterton plays Gretel and Jeremy Renner is Hansel.

It didn’t much feel like we needed another fairy tale retelling “for grown-ups” (read: genre-heads) right now, between “Snow White & the Huntsman,” “Red Riding Hood,” and TV’s “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm.” But apparently Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola doesn’t care. Best known for the Nazi zombies horror import “Dead Snow,” Wirkola tears through “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” with such giddy abandon, it ends up being splattery fanboy fun. Preposterous, clearly, but fun. (No kidding, Will Ferrell’s production company had a hand in developing the thing.)

The movie boils down the Brothers Grimm essentials to an Autobahn-fast prologue, with the fabled young sibs stumbling across that sugar-coated cottage and dispatching its witchy owner, violently, in the first five minutes or so. But hey, consider the kids’ efficiency as support for the trendy suggestion that years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, “Clash of the Titans”) have grown up to be arms-totin’, f-bombin’ ace bounty hunters.

They’re just the pair to bail out a village whose children are being abducted for a witches’ blood ritual that’s fast approaching. Not that the local grand witch (Famke Janssen, flashing an unfamiliar edge) is going to make it easy for them. Neither is a fearmong­ering sheriff (Peter Stormare) whose nose keeps getting out of joint, graphically, thanks to spirited Gretel. (You wonder whether Arterton swaps her native British accent for American here to suit the part, or to somehow stoop to it — but she acquits herself fine.)


Renner especially does nice work, managing the screwy tone, not winking so much as scowling comically. Just watch him spit underwritten lines like this bit of warrior’s wisdom: “Never walk into a house made of candy.” Similarly, the 3-D dismemberments, guttings, and gory troll rampages are comedic, with an “Evil Dead”-ly edge — you may well gape first, then laugh. And the effects work on Janssen and the other witches is fairly hardcore itself: incandescent eyes and obsidian lips framed by the face of a mummified zombie (or zombified mummy, take your pick). It can be a little grim, all right — but that’s folklore for you.

Tom Russo can be reached at