Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Grimms Gets CG

Hansel & Gretel get CG

I watched this film with deep misgivings. I then realised that not only was I being unfair, I was, if nothing else, being hypocritical. I have always maintained that one should watch a film with no preset expectations. I had doomed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with an almost pathological distaste at the “high tech” weaponry and the CG that dominated the film.

You’d think I would have known better.

The film is a great big fantasy filled romp through Grimm’s fairy tale land. It is just gory enough to be very apropos to the original, much darker, version of the fairy tale, with an interesting twist. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (the talent that brought us the gloriously funny Dead Snow in 2009) it was a labour of love for him.

Turns out that Tommy had the idea for H&G:WH in film school (or media school, whichever you prefer) and apart from the fact that his teacher asked him to never approach him on that particular subject again, he did recommend that Tommy do a sales pitch on the idea if he ever got to Hollywood.

Which is exactly what he did.

Starring: Jeremy RennerGemma ArtertonFamke Janssen, and  Peter Stormare  the film has a good enough pedigree in the acting arena to at least guarantee good performances and the actors do a brilliant job with the limited character arc that their roles entail.

The plot (according to IMDb) is as follows:

Hansel & Gretel are bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.

The witch hunting duo use all sorts of way too modern weaponry to dispatch the witches they encounter (all for a price, despite this being a labour of love, they also charge accordingly – as Hansel says early in the film, “Trolls are extra.”) the film has no designs of being “historically” accurate. We are here for the fun of it and if you cannot get past the obvious updating of the witch hunters, the exit is clearly marked, or in my case, the eject button.

Janssen

Famke Janssen rocks it as the witch “ruler” who has a personal score to settle with the witch killing pair. Although she really has it in for Gretel, who turns out to be  a white witch whose heart needs to be ripped out in order to make all witches the world over, impervious to fire.

Peter Stormare, does what Peter Stormare does best. He’s another distasteful oaf who’s the town sheriff and town bully. He dislikes H&G on first sight and takes umbrage that they are in his town telling him what to do.

So much for the plot and the characters, except to say the both Renner and Arterton have a lot of fun with their roles. But the combination of CG and practical FX help to sell this film. I spent the entire film thinking that the troll, Edward, was a CG creation and it turns out, he was not.

He is gloriously real (in a prosthetic sort of real) and only a modicum of CG was required. Even the witches flying on their version of broomsticks was real. The make-up and the stunts and the FX helped to make the film a glorious romp with no semblance to reality in the film. Well, apart from using a village set that does attempt to stay faithful to history.

Overall, this was a 4 out of 5 star film. I rated it so high because of Janssen and Storemare and Renner and Arterton. These actors went all out for their roles. Roles that could have been a straight two dimensional caricature had they chosen to play it that way. Sure they didn’t have room for a lot of depth, but it is a fairytale at the end of the day.

Great film, just don’t look for too much in the way of being faithful to the Brothers Grimm.

witch hunt

Hansel and Gretel aka Henjel gwa Geuretel (2007): South Korean Grimm Tale

Directed and co-written by Pil-Sung Yim, Hansel & Gretel is a South Korean masterpiece that uses a Brothers Grimm palette to paint a dark fantasy/horror film.

Driving through a mountainous area by a forest, Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) is on the phone arguing with his pregnant girlfriend about his decision to see his sick mother. In mid-argument his car crashes. Injured and in shock, Eun-Soo stumbles into the forest and gets hopelessly lost.

As night falls, he stumbles across a young girl holding a lantern. She is Young Hee (Eun-kyung Shim) and she leads Eun-Soo to a fairytale cottage deep in the woods. Once there, he meets her “family.” Older brother Manbok (Eun Won-jae), little sister Jung Soon (Ji-hee Jin) and their “parents” all welcome Eun-Soo to the house.

As he is still in shock from the accident Eun-Soo does not notice the strained atmosphere in the house. But we do. The parents are too eager, too ready to please and the children are disconcerting. After offers of help, Eun-Soo is treated to a children’s version of a meal; all sweets and pastries and ice cream.

Eun-Soo will soon discover that all is not what it seems and after the parents disappear, he discovers that the children are not what they appear to be and that a new arrival to the “house of happy children” may kill them all.

Gingerbread house.
Gingerbread house.

Pil-Sung has done a brilliant job with this film. The European fairytale theme is omnipresent in the film. The paintings on the wall, the furniture, the colours of the house and its many rooms all scream Brothers Grimm, including the very house itself. The location of the house and its secrets are in the deepest part of the forest and like the original Hansel and Gretel, each time Eun-Soo tries to find his way out he gets lost. This prompts Young Hee to tell him that he needs to place bread crumbs on his trail.

The music is evocative of the darkest fairy tale imaginable; it is vaguely reminiscent of a Danny Elfman score in places and overall sets the mood of the action brilliantly. The mixture of the music and the story can put you instantly in the emotional mood of the scenes. Eerie, sad, forlorn, scary,  and magical, the score fits perfectly.

The young actors playing the children are beyond brilliant. They convey the longing for real parents to love them and protect them. The children can then “turn” and be damned scary and creepy when it looks like they won’t get their most heartfelt wish. Eun-Soo grows up while he is with the children and his ordeal makes him realize what is really important in his life.

Later in the film when the children lure another couple to the house, Byun (Hee-soon Park) and his not very pleasant wife. Byun says that he is a man of the cloth, in reality he is a twisted and sick child murderer; his wife is never explained, but it doesn’t matter as she does not last long in the house and is one nasty bit of work. Hee-soon Park is terrifying as the serial killer who is so incredibly dark and scary.

Deacon Byun and his nasty wife.

This film is unforgettable and is easily one of the best  to come out of South Korea. The imagery and  the back story of the children, added to the confusion of what is really going on make a scary, disturbing thriller and yet it tugs at the heart-strings while arousing feelings of anger and pain for what is going on and what happened in the past.

Amazingly this film was panned in South Korea as being “too European.” While that is somewhat puzzling, the film is brilliant and I have a copy in my collection that is watched often.

Every once in a while, I find a film that defies any sort of star rating system. Hansel and Gretel is one of those films. If you do not watch any other film from South Korea, make sure that you watch this one. It terms of greatness it rivals Kim Jee-Woon‘s A Tale of Two Sisters.

Hansel and Gretel will stay with you long after you have seen it and if you can watch the ending of the film and not have at least a lump in your throat the size of Texas, something is wrong.

Manbok and the secret door.