My Monday continues.
The power went out just as I started drying my hair, which signals to the cat that his breakfast is due, so he began hollering at me to hurry it up and then screaming abuse because I kept blindly kicking him down the hallway—he could see perfectly well and didn’t know what on earth was wrong with me.
But I’d rather talk about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
I had no real expectations going into the theater. I’d been told that it was an unrepentant B movie with Troma* leanings and no redeeming qualities, but I wanted to see it because I enjoy fairy tale adaptions, steampunk-ish anachronisms, and Jeremy Renner in generic historical leathers.
Still, I was pleasantly relieved when it turned out to be a decent B movie.
There’s an actual story. It’s not a complicated story, by any means, but there is one and it makes sense.
There are moments where things could have ventured into Men in Tights slapstick—the milkman putting out bottles with missing children notices tied on them with string was one—but this movie takes itself a tad more seriously. Not Van Helsing seriously, thank heavens, but there are some non-gratuitous dark moments, self-discovery and actual character growth.
And there are rules. They aren’t breathtaking, intricate rules, because this is neither Avatar or Inception, but the movie never breaks them. When Hansel and Gretel discover something important about their past that could very well be a Deus ex Gamechanger, the movie doesn’t play it that way. Instead, it’s an emotion-based World-View Changer, and allows both of them to accept assistance from a source they wouldn’t have touched before. This movie doesn’t cheat.
I respect that.
I also noted that there were none of those awkward moments when the audience laughs or groans or roll their eyes in unintended places. Tommy Wirkola did a pretty good job of putting us where he wanted us.
The acting was a big help too—the actors were far better than a B-movie usually deserves and most of the characters who have more than two scenes and three lines were fairly well-rounded. The one exception is the Sheriff, played by Peter Stormare , who was fully aware that he was supposed to be a Big Bad Misogynist Cardboard Obstacle and, since the movie didn’t give him much room to do otherwise, did his job and earned both his paycheck and his inevitable demise without once showing us the politics or self-esteem issues that made him a #4B-Class Woman-Hating Angry Man in Power.
But Hansel and Gretel are played very well—siblings who were abandoned as kids without explanation and then attacked, who saved themselves and decided that no other child was going to suffer like that on their watch. They’re strong, but not super-powered—the only “natural” advantage they have is that dark magic doesn’t work on them for reasons that become clear later—and they work for their victories. Their lifestyle and dependence on each other don’t help them interact well with others, but you can see glimpses of who they might have been if they hadn’t nibbled at that candy house. Gemma Arterton plays it stoic—A Woman Doing a Man’s Job—until it’s safe for the character to crack a little. And Jeremy Renner is absolutely natural as Hansel, no matter what the movie makes him do—believe me, that’s skill.
The wannabe witch hunter fanboy character is great, too—I like him even better than the one in Galaxy Quest, probably because he isn’t so hyper about it and clearly has a Tumblr-level thing for Gretel that half-embarrasses him to death. Hansel’s personal fan, Mina, does her best to hit Hansel—who has problems dealing with her because he’s been all about the witch killing since before puberty and she’s, you know, a pretty girl who shows up at the most awkward times—with a clue stick until he actually listens to what she’s saying, which is, thankfully, more than the obvious fact that she’s a sure thing. And even the Troll emotes like Henson has something to do with it.
The witches are Evil—you could tell because The Stereotypical Ugliness Curse of the Wicked had set in, swapping moisturized skin and normal eye-colors for the linked compulsions of eating children and using insidious amounts of hair goop —but at least the three Generic Germanic witches had individual personalities and Famke Janssen looked like she was having fun getting paid.
I will admit that, even with the Troma warning and the R-rating, I hadn’t expected quite so much gore, even though I’d seen the trailer and knew it had been shot for 3D audiences, something that guaranteed blood spatter and the occasional thrown limb. I’m not a huge fan of gratuitous cinematic bodily fluids, but the soft gore horror, as Watson put it, really doesn’t get in the way of the story—plus it’s telegraphed pretty well, so I was able to blink slow in a few places and miss it.
While no one is going to have to angst over which Oscar clips to showcase for this film,** I enjoyed it. I’m probably going to see it again, because my friend Cha Cha couldn’t go with us and Watson and I are bickering about one of Hansel’s lines.***
It’s a simple, uncomplicated, well-acted, somewhat violent, and occasionally blood-splashed flick that isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t.
Seriously—what more do you really need?
*As in Troma Studios, whom we can thank for such classics as Cannibal: The Musical and The Toxic Avenger, a movie I saw three times, though in my defense, I was seventeen and the local movie theater didn’t card for R-rated movies. Though I was unnerved to discover during a quick fact-check (hush, it happens) that there were five movies in the series . . .
** Kudos, though, goes to whoever conceptualized and/or designed the Desert Gila Witch at the end—they need recognition.
***She thinks he’s saying, “Unleash hell!” and I think he’s calling the weapon “Michelle” in the French manner. Either, we agree, is possible in context.