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Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Cast
Jeremy Renner as Hansel; Gemma Arterton as Gretel; Famke Janssen as Muriel; Pihla Viitala as Mina; Derek Mears as Edward; Robin Atkin Downes as Voice of Edward; Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Horned Witch; Joanna Kulig as Red Haired Witch; Thomas Mann as Ben; Peter Stormare as Sheriff Berringer
Director
Tommy Wirkola
Distributor
Paramount Pictures
In Theaters
January 25, 2013
On Video
June 11, 2013
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

We at Plugged In strongly support the idea of raising children in cheerful, stable, cannibal/witch-free homes. Without such a setting, kids are statistically more likely to abuse alcohol and get in trouble at school. And if things take a really uncomfortable turn, they could well become homeless mercenaries, spending their adult lives hacking up and burning hags.

Take, for example, Hansel and Gretel. For a good chunk of their childhoods, these siblings grew up in an idyllic home setting with Mom and Pops—playing, eating dinner together and frolicking through the forest without a care in the world. Had they been able to stay with their parents through their inevitably turbulent teen years, perhaps their lives might've been different. Gretel might've become an advertising executive or doctor. Hansel could've been an accountant, or maybe gotten involved in embroidery work. They might've each gotten married, purchased nice, suburban homes and met each other from time to time for a chat over espressos at Grimm's Olde Coffee Shoppe.

Alas, Hansel and Gretel's home life took a terrible turn for the worse. One night, their father led the two urchins into the deep, dark forest and left them there, never to return. The next thing they know, they're trapped inside a house made of candy, being force-fed sweets by an ugly, angry witch and stoking the very oven she plans to cook them in.

Thankfully, this hardy pair proved surprisingly resourceful, tossing the witch into her own oven and setting the broil dial to "kill." Then, lacking proper adult guidance (or parents of any kind, actually) and needing to make a living somehow, the two orphans decided to pursue a trade that capitalizes on the only thing they really knew how to do: killing witches. They create their own informal extermination services, dispatching old crones and hags and wart-covered sorceresses wherever they may lurk.

Oh, this grim life has its rewards. They become celebrities, impressing villagers with their unmatched panache and grotesque, perilous tales (much like our modern rappers). They're given enough coin for their bloody escapades to keep them in food and grog.

But perhaps, in the quiet moments as they scrub witch gore from their weapons, they wonder whether a different, more peaceful life might've been theirs … had their parents been able to take care of them.

Positive Elements

That last bit of introspection isn't really in this movie, just so you know. But there is at least one other positive worth mentioning: Hansel and Gretel routinely risk their lives to take down the worst of their land's evil denizens—saving whatever children might need saving while they're at it.

Their moxie inspires others to chip in, too: Mina, a lovely villager who was nearly burned as a witch herself; an ogre who previously served in the nefarious coven of a certain powerful witch named Muriel; a youth who hopes to become a witch hunter himself one day. While none of these characters are necessarily paragons of virtue, they do what—in the movie's troubled ethos—must be done.

[Spoiler Warning] It's important to note that Hansel and Gretel's parents didn't just desert their kids because they wanted to go play the slots somewhere. Turns out, their mother was a "good" witch who sensed that villagers were coming to kill her. So she casts a spell to permanently protect her children from bad witch magic and sends them away for their own safety, leaving herself at the mercy of the mob.

The concept of "good" witches is always problematic, of course, but we must still laud Mom for doing a supremely motherly thing here. "They died to save you," Muriel snidely tells Gretel and Hansel. And when another white witch sacrifices herself to save Hansel, Muriel declares her "pathetic." We, naturally, would beg to differ.

Spiritual Content

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter is filthy with witches. We've already established that. But just what sorts of witches are they? That's a more ticklish question.

Most of 'em are flat-out bad. So bad that we see them attempt to sacrifice children and others under a blood-red moon—the most unholy holiday these witches have seen for several years. And we know that that first witch Hansel and Gretel encountered loved to eat kids. Someone refers to the witches as "spawn of Satan."

We later learn of the existence of the so-called white witches. They don't look ugly. They don't use their magic for evil. In fact, we rarely see them use magic at all. But we know that when they "bless" weapons, those weapons are far more effective on run-of-the-mill evil witches. And while practicing white sorcery still involves spell books and such, becoming a white witch is less a matter of choice and more a matter of heredity in Hansel and Gretel's world.

[Spoiler Warning] Which explains why the evil witches are so keen on capturing the sibs. Muriel hopes to make herself (and her sisters) invulnerable to fire (and thus nigh invincible), but to work this delicate piece of magic, she needs the heart from a "great white witch." Gretel is that witch, even though Gretel herself doesn't realize it until Muriel is actively trying to remove her heart from her ribcage.

Theologically, then, these witches are in a pickle. Sometimes they reflect a traditional Christian understanding of witchcraft. At others, they seem to embody a more naturalist understanding of magic, ever-so-slightly akin to Harry Potter. And then you've got elements of either a yin-yang or good vs. evil showdown—a battle between inherently light and inherently dark creatures that doesn't have much to do with "witchcraft," as typically understood, at all.

A man about to be killed by a witch says, "Please, God, no." To which the witch responds, "Even your God knows better than to come here." A woman crosses herself before getting shot. We see occult-looking texts and charts.

Sexual Content

Mina disrobes and wades, naked, into a pool of healing water, and we see both her exposed breasts and backside. She invites Hansel to join her, which he does. The two begin kissing in the pool before the camera turns its attention elsewhere. The next time we see the lovers, they're getting dressed, with Mina asking Hansel if he might visit her again should he be in the area.

Ben, a young wannabe witch hunter, cares for an unconscious Gretel—swabbing her face with a wet cloth. His focus shifts ever lower until he begins dabbing the swell of her breasts—"ministrations" that are quickly terminated when Gretel revives.

Violent Content

Muriel casts a spell on a would-be tracker, causing strange grub-like things to crawl under his skin. (We see them skitter under his forehead.) He later walks into a tavern, delivers a message and then literally explodes—showering blood and gore on everyone there.

Muriel captures another man via forest tendrils, which lasso his arms, legs and head and literally pull him apart. An ogre crushes one man's head like a grape and stomps another's head into the ground like a pumpkin—spraying blood everywhere.

And witches themselves apparently bleed just like everybody else. Hansel and Mina blast a massive sabbat full of witches with steampunk weaponry. Some of the witches are obliterated by a hail of blessed bullets. Others are painfully skewered or hacked apart. A few, flying away, are sliced into nugget-sized bits of meat when they hit a web of lethal wire strung up between trees. One is crushed by a falling pine. Hansel and Gretel behead a witch with a shovel.

Witch vs. witch hunter battles are filled with flying fists and feet and whole bodies; participants dodge (or sometimes don't) inexhaustible numbers of blades and arrows and bullets and magical flying projectiles. And since in this movie's ethos witches are always female, most of this violence is perpetrated against (and often by) women.

A witch (via magic) forces a boy to shoot his own mother and a man to commit suicide with a shotgun. A man struggles as he hangs from a noose; his wife burns in a pyre beyond. Dogs attack and kill their masters. Hansel is painfully dragged (via broomstick) through a forest, winding up high in a tree. He "escapes" by falling hard to the ground. Gretel head-butts a sheriff, making his nose spurt blood. Later, she nearly bites the guy's schnoz right off, which generates even more gushing blood.

An ogre is revived through primitive shock therapy. Folks get stabbed. Children are threatened. A witch is thrown into an oven and burned alive. We see cartoon depictions of witch exterminations. A witch is brutally interrogated (involving punches to her face, leaving her bloody). A witch holds her hand over and open flame until it begins to hurt her.

Crude or Profane Language

A half-dozen f-words and about the same number of s-words. A variety of milder profanities include "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑." We hear one or two misuses of God's name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Witch hunters and others drink liquor. Hansel regularly injects himself with medication to stay alive.

Conclusion

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a dumb, kitschy, sloppy, salacious bit of filmmaking. There is no real character development. There's barely a plot. This movie makes SpongeBob SquarePants look like a work by Tolstoy.

Instead of a solid narrative, then, there's lots and lots and lots of blood. The flimsy flick wallows in it, splashes through it, practically drowns under the weight of it.

I can only echo the sentiments surely voiced by the unhappy village's underpaid sanitation specialists after one of many nearby battles: What a mess.

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