Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola. 14A. 88 min.
The best thing about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is how all the witches look like they’re about to audition for a Cradle of Filth cover band. The relentlessly thundering musical score is another giveaway that director Tommy Wirkola—making his Hollywood debut after the 2009 Nazi-zombie gore-fest Dead Snow—hails from the land that gave us Norwegian black metal.
Wirkola’s eagerness to dish out the splatter—much of it caused by a troll with a talent for head-smushing—further amplifies the bombastic nature of this trashy but intermittently engaging horror-action-comedy hybrid. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star as characters made famous by the Brothers Grimm, though this movie’s version of Hansel and Gretel have capitalized on their childhood witch-killing experience in a certain gingerbread house by becoming bounty hunters in some unspecified corner of Medieval Europe. An investigation into a series of child disappearances leads to conflict with a powerful crone (Famke Janssen, excellent both with and without that corpse-like face paint) and revelations about the pair’s own origins.
Originally pushed from its 2012 release date and bearing the tell-tale scars from whatever cuts it must’ve endured to get down to its 88-minute running time, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters boasts the same air of damaged goods as so many early-year releases. Yet Wirkola’s goofy, gory brand of mayhem has considerable appeal for viewers who don’t mind getting yet another serving of second-rate Sam Raimi (or third-rate Terry Gilliam). The witch battles have a nifty sense of velocity and there are smart design touches throughout. No wonder Renner almost looks like he’s having fun, which is pretty impressive for an actor who only has two facial expressions.