It's a little strange why this film wasn't given advanced press previews in the US, and for territories like ours there was a review embargo to comply with, signalling the lack of confidence the filmmakers and distributors have on this film update of the Hansel and Gretel storyline. Perhaps they're taking a leaf out of recent updates to fairy tales such as the two Snow White movies, and Red Riding Hood, that they want to be a bit deaf to criticisms, and to allow audiences to judge instead. But Hansel and Gretel as witch hunters followed the mold of Blade, and proved to be quite the mass market entertainer, with no pretences in wanting to be more.
Written and directed by Norwegian Tommy Wirkola, this story had all the right ingredients for the kind of film it wanted to be, taking the familiar folk lore, and putting a creative, not necessarily new, spin on it. We see how the two kids get brought out to the woods, only this time there isn't a trail of crumbs to follow home. The iconic house of bread and sweets, and the wicked witch who wants to fatten Hansel as food later on are all included, as do their defeat of the witch by burning her alive in the stove. This forms the prologue, and the What If scenario that Hansel and Gretel were to build on their initial success, and form a career out of hunting, and destroying witches anywhere, bounty hunter style.
As you would already have seen in the trailer, this is but one of their adventures shown in helping a village deal with the menace of the witch Muriel (Famke Janssen), who together with her posse of like-minded witches have kidnapped children in preparation of a ritual to be performed under the blood moon. And there's no other better for the job than for Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), engaged by the mayor thanks to the widespread news of their successful witch hunting exploits played over the opening credits. The rest of the story is nothing but set action piece after set action piece, paced frantically without any pause longer than necessary, with a story that ties it all in to their origins, and going full circle.
clocking in at just under 90 minutes, the movie has two surprise acts and characters best kept under wraps, one to reverse the mantra that the witch hunters adopt to their methods, and the other a fine character introduced that shed clues to their origin story. Jeremy Renner continues in his sharing of the limelight in roles he had chosen of late, preferring to be the team player from the Impossible Mission Force to the Avengers, and continues as one half of the brother-sister team. Gemma Arterton is perhaps best known for her role as the Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, with her dramatic roles having never made it here. And having another Bond girl in Famke Janssen in yet another villainous role also helped, although every character in this film is pretty one dimensional.
But this is an action-adventure taking a well known fairy tale and giving it a license to thrill with blood and gore. While most of the effects are CG laden, it doesn't flinch from wanting to showcase burning at the stakes and various forms of dismemberment and beheadings that increases its body count in very gory terms. It's a story about witch hunting in a fantasy setting, and it exploits this setting perfectly. A definite recommend for any action junkie.