The Brothers Grimm stories are aimed at children, but the original tales are far more gruesome than the Disneyfied, G-rated versions today's children are more familiar with. Consider Disney created adaptations of Cinderella, The Frog Prince, and Rapunzel, but has so far steered clear of Hansel and Gretel. Disney's writers most likely continue to stumble over how to polish the story of an abusive stepmother forcing children out of the house to starve and a cannibalistic witch.
The 2013 live-action twist on Hansel and Gretel transforms their parent's motives on why they end up lost in the woods yet stays true to the original story of the witch living in a candy house and her inevitable demise in the oven courtesy of Gretel. This only occupies the first few minutes though until a title appears declaring, "Many years later." The children nourished their newfound witch-slaughtering skills and are now known as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. It looks like the siblings (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) are in their thirties and they are mercenaries for hire and have the arsenal to prove it.
The weaponry is out of place because the witches are more powerful than Hansel and Gretel. They are stronger, faster, jet away on broomsticks, and deflect bullets with their hands. No matter how many times Hansel and Gretel unload a shotgun or cross-bow at a witch, they never connect. The fights always end up at hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps they carry around the firepower to seem more imposing to impressionable villagers. To show just how contemporary his take on Hansel and Gretel is, director/writer Tommy Wirkola and co-writer Dante Harper add a healthy dose of the f-word, use slang such as 'hillbilly', and oh yeah, the anachronistic firearms.
The small village of Augsburg, Germany has a witch problem. The sheriff (Peter Stormare) is happy enough grabbing any lady off the street, staging a show trial, and burning her at the stake to appease the superstitious villagers. The mayor (Rainer Bock), on the other hand, requires a bit more evidence of witchcraft and hires our witch hunters to ferret out the local coven. The head witch, Muriel (Famke Janssen), has big plans of her own. A once in a generation blood moon is approaching and if she and her fellow extremely ugly witches massacre 12 children, they will become immune to their greatest nemesis, fire.
There is no sex in this fairy tale so it earns its R-rating with strong violence and gore. Witches are destroyed every which way and if a human meets his end, its usually with a few pints of blood jettisoning out with sufficient velocity. The blood spatter and violence is more campy than real though; it trends toward the cartoon end of the spectrum. While it is billed as an action/horror genre film, it is really more of a black comedy with some frenetically edited action sequences juxtaposed with Hansel's interest in a local maiden and Gemma Arterton's leather pants.
The only reason for anyone to label it horror is due to the witches' aesthetic. These girls are hideous. One has horns, there is an albino, a fat one, one with no legs, and they appear to have scales instead of skin. Only Muriel has any true conversation skills as her sisters click and scream. When they do speak, it sounds as if it is through an ounce of two of phlegm. Hansel and Gretel's most effective attributes are the witches; they are the most original pieces in the film. Compared to previous movie witches (Narnia's White Witch, the Witches of Eastwick, Hocus Pocus, Oz's Wicked Witch of the West, et al…), these ladies are bloody, violent, are formidable fighters, and are ready to chomp on a child at moment's notice.
If the rest of Hansel and Gretel were as original and creative as the witches, it would be a much better movie. Unfortunately, the script is stale, the plot is more than predictable, and as Famke Janssen even admitted, one gets the feeling the actors showed up here strictly for the paycheck and that's about it.