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Review: ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’

The Best Plotless, Steampunk Film This Year

Step into the world of groundless and ridiculous film fun with "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" (opens everywhere January 25.)

Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner, as the completely kick-ass orphan duo, Hansel and Gretel, in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters."

Watch the trailer here.

I have come to appreciate the art of the terrible film. I think there should be courses devoted to the subject, and movies should list the classification among their genres (e.g., "horror/action/adventure/terrible"). The title and niche being specifically for those looking to delve into the true terribleness of crappily composed film, with the goal of enveloping oneself in groundless fun. "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" fits right in.

I'll tell you about the movie, then explain the professed sub-genre. Stay with me.

"Hansel & Gretel" opens with familiar tunes by composer Hans Zimmer, setting a twangy and upbeat tone to a backdrop of dense forest that feels like similarly terrible films ("Red Riding Hood" (2011), "Twilight", etc.). The cute children, Hansel and Gretel, are rushed out of their beds and led into the forest by their father, then left to their own. "Stay here," he whispers as he rushes back. Left to their own devices (no bread crumbs, unfortunately), the two stumble upon the most delicious looking structure I've seen since the "Sugar Rush" game in "Wreck-It Ralph" (2012), the witch's house of candied scrumptiousness. Quickly, they start eating themselves into a near sugar coma. Then, they're abducted by a terrifying witch.

I was expecting a playful take on the classic tale. This film is not what I anticipated in regards to plot or delivery. The first scene is sincerely scary. The witch has her weird way with the kids, preparing them for what seems like an extravagant meal or a kid-composed potion. Short moments of terror pass before Hansel and Gretel use what's available in the house to brutally kill the maniacal necromancer. The playfully weird and terrifying tone is set.

The following sequence is the only reason I recommend the 3-D viewing, and seems the most thought out and cost intensive aspect of the film.

We are led through a fun, format-bouncing intro and credit reel (akin to the equally terrible, yet surprisingly more complex, "Your Highness" (2011). We venture in and out of shapes and plains, across generic news articles that exclaim how heroic the orphan witch hunters are, and see glimpses of the brutal, bloody sorcerer crusade that is the dynamic duo's life. All amazing, loud, crazed fun, that is foremost awesomely terrible. And it ends ridiculously as it began.

The rest of the 88-minute film seems like it was written and shot within a week. There is a razor thin plot that comes from nowhere and is reiterated extensively: the blood moon is happening because of stars and sorcery and stuff, so we have to kill witches and save children. Most the film is pretty much that, with a lot of steam-punk weaponry, leather attire, gushing blood, and a pinch of sexuality to keep things interesting. The beautiful Famke Janssen also turns into a witch sometimes.

Famke Janssen as a Great Witch in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"

So what is the essence of a terrible, awesome film? And what's the difference between these and films that just happen to suck?

My mentor, Beth Accomando did a story on the subject of bad movie making. (You can check it out here). The film she covered for that piece and "Hansel & Gretel" are slightly different, but they do share similar characteristics, and I think our points overlap.

There are real movie making hurdles, such as costly production, actors, crew, props, promotions and so forth, but the product is near rubbish and the actors hardly act. The point of it all is to appreciate the film experience for what it is -- a fun and wonderfully awful movie (enjoyed best with a friend to dissect the ridiculousness, of course). And to make the terrible recipe work, the film makers and crew have to know they're making a bad (or just-for-fun) movie. The difference between a terribly awesome film and plain bad film comes to intention. Films that suck fall to mediocrity because they are trying to be substantive and failing. Terribly awesome films meet their goal. And I left the theater with the biggest smile on my face. Goal achieved.

"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" is rated R for strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language.

Companion Viewing:

Among my list of terrible, awesome movies:

"Bandidas" (2006)

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (2012)

"Bubba Ho-Tep" (2002)

"Jennifer's Body" (2009)

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