By Joseph Charlton
A FAIRY tale is only as good as its teller. Unfortunately, writer-director Tommy Wirkola – whose last film Dead Snow concerned a battalion of zombie Nazis haunting a Norwegian forest – is as mindless as his resume suggests.
In Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, his new horror-fantasy, busty Gemma Arterton and brain-dead Jeremy Renner are a grown-up version of the eponymous siblings. The duo roam the Bavarian hills fighting medieval demons with semi-automatic weapons. For good measure Wirkola throws in a troll and a battle involving a Gatling gun and some more cleavage.
The fifteen certificate means it can’t go the whole hog gore-wise. Wirkola tries to compensate with light humour and a sense of fairy tale fun. The problem is, good fairy tales aren’t just fun – they are also preoccupied with the curious and the uncanny. The witch in the Grimms’ Hansel and Gretel lives in a house made of gingerbread and cakes – a cruel irony given her plan to eat the children that are lured there.
Wirkola’s world, for all its exploding heads and broomstick battles, lacks this depth of imagination. It even removes the fairytale furniture found in the Grimm brothers’ original: gone is the evil stepmother insistent on abandoning her children in the woods, and gone too is the trail of bread crumbs left as a guide home.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth showed the wonderful possibilities of the fantasy horror genre with its terrifying take on the fairy tale. Hollywood, stubborn as ever, flatly refused to take note.