October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Starring: Hawkeye, Strawberry Fields, and Jean Grey going full Dark Phoenix.
Synopsis: Framed as the aftermath of Hansel and Gretel famously killing and baking the witch in the candy house, the movie begins with a retelling of the fairy tale in which the witch wins an award for Least Subtle Crone Ever and Gretel is the one who saves the day (and Hansel) and kills the witch. We are shown that the pair then go on to be famous witch hunters, killing scores of witches all across the land. The main action of the movie truly begins in a town where nearly a dozen children have gone missing and the siblings have been called in to do something about it. They save a woman who has been (sort of) false accused of witchcraft and then go on to battle a massive coven led by Famke Janssen in what might as well be a sequel to her role in X-Men: The Last Stand. The witches have plans to use the children plus the power of a blood moon plus Gretel’s heart (as it’s been revealed her mother was a white witch who actually sent the children into the woods to protect them and therefore her heart has special good magic) to create a potion that will make the witches immune to the usual witch-killing methods. Massive amounts of bloodshed ensue, Hansel and Gretel pick up some friends, and the coven is defeated.
I have very mixed feeling about this movie. I mentioned in my last movie review the inherent problems with Bad Witch stories (which, more here) and this movie exemplifies those problems ad nauseum. The evil witches in this movie are ugly, deformed creatures, and we are told that this is a side affect of witchcraft. Although the head witch is intelligent and can disguise her ugliness, most of the witches shown are not very bright and when fighting basically act like savage animals rather than people. This enforces the idea that women who act improperly do not need to be treated like human beings. The movie also loves the concept that attractive = good and ugly = bad, which is a common problem even in non-supernatural movies but is amplified here with the white witches being beatifically lovely while the evil witches are utterly grotesque. In fact, the ugly troll dude is allowed to turn good which only reinforces the importance of physical beauty for women in particular.
Aside from the witches, the only other women given significant roles are Gretel, Mina (the woman she and Hansel save who turns out also to be a good witch), and to a much lesser extent, Hansel and Gretel’s mother who is vilified at the outset and sainted later when we learn she was protecting her children by sending them into the woods (although it is unclear how this was meant to be safe option for them). Initially, I was pleased with Gretel’s character. In the first act, she is arguably the dominant one in the partnership, interceding on behalf of the good witch, speaking for both sibling, and making the plans. She’s clever, she curses, and she generally does as she pleases (this can also be a problem in female characterization, when a female character becomes admirable or extraordinary by shunning all female peers and seeking male approval by putting other women down and acting in a masculine way, but that’s another story and after yesterday’s movie I’m just happy to a female character with any agency at all).
In any case, after a promising first act in which Gretel is shown to be independent and competent, she is damselled, hard, turned into a prize to be fought over, and threatened with rape for pretty much no reason but show that one character is really very bad and that another, the troll who rescues her, is good. This, above all, made me really furious at the movie. It’s offensive, and really just lazy writing, implying that Gretel is also be punished for acting in a way that doesn’t fit with society’s ideals of womanhood and that she needs to be taken down a peg.
Gretel does get some action in the third act but even when she has her freedom to fight again, her role is greatly reduced as one to support her brother’s victory rather than her own. Mina, who has been helping them with her good magic, sacrifices her life to aid Hansel, which was also disappointing. Although if she had lived she likely would have been shoehorned into a role as a reward for Hansel even more than she already was.
All that said… I couldn’t uncategorically hate this movie. It is, as it very clearly informs us early on through the use of tabloid-style woodcuts of Hansel and Gretel’s exploits and pictures of the missing children taped to milk bottles, meant to be a parody. The violence is over-the-top and the setting is amusingly anachronistic with weapons ranging from swords to machine guns to a wind-up cattle-prod employed. It revels in gory effects and spectacularly hyper-violent set pieces. The plot point of Hansel developing diabetes from being force-fed candy in his youth is hamfistedly deployed, but it is nice to see a generally positive depiction of a lead character with a disability that isn’t treated sentimentally.
The movie is at its best when it remembers that it’s meant to be ridiculous. It fails when it attempts heartwarming moments, such as the retcon of Hansel and Gretel’s mother as a good witch and the relationship between Hansel and Mina. It sets up an implausible premise and a universe free of virtually any rules that might hamper the carnage but then fails to fully commit to making fun of itself and its characters at key moments. On the whole, it’s deeply problematic in its treatment of women and not quite cynical enough to pull off the laughs it desperately wants, but despite all that manages to provide a reasonably fun 90 minutes.
Quality: 4 candy houses out of 10, because the effects and make up are excellent and the pacing is good enough to keep it from dragging too much.
Entertainment Value: 5 shirtless Jeremy Renners of 10 for the bonkers action and moments of humor.