Andy Bockelman: ‘Hansel & Gretel’ a freaky, funny, fractured fairy tale

Siblings Gretel and Hansel (Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner) venture into the forest in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” The movie is a twist on the classic fairy tale of the brother and sister growing up to become bounty hunters of evil witches.

Siblings Gretel and Hansel (Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner) venture into the forest in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” The movie is a twist on the classic fairy tale of the brother and sister growing up to become bounty hunters of evil witches.

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” PG-13

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

Run time: 87 minutes

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and at the West Theatre in Craig. For a full list of this week's movie times, click here.

— Once upon a time, there were two siblings whose mutual interests included killing people who were different from them and finding sadistic ways in which to carry out that hobby. If that premise were used to describe anyone in real life, it would be sick, twisted and tasteless to make a movie about their exploits.

As if it needs to be said, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” manages to distance itself quite a ways from reality.

We’ve all heard the story about the brother and sister left alone in a forest only to find a gingerbread house owned by an evil witch whom they had to shove into an oven to stay alive.

The legend of Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton) goes far beyond that version, though. For 15 years after that traumatic incident, the pair has made it a mission to track down and wipe out the scourge of witches across the world, whether it’s burning them at the stake, slicing them apart or relying on heavy artillery.

Hansel and Gretel never have encountered one of these unholy ladies that they couldn’t kill, but they might have met their match in Muriel (Famke Janssen), a witch with a plan to empower her kind forever.

With roles in “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “The Avengers” and “The Bourne Legacy,” Renner’s action hero resume is getting pretty long by now. This might be his most physically demanding role yet and almost certainly the one involving the coolest weaponry.

Did we mention he does all this while battling diabetes as a result of being force-fed so much sugar?

Not to be outshone, Arterton is just as formidable, perhaps even more so, delivering a top-notch head-butt right off the bat and a slew of four-letter words to follow.

Given the lack of celebrities of the time period, it only makes sense the two would have admirers. For Hansel, a girl (Pihla Viitala) he saves from a bloodthirsty mob willing to believe any woman is a witch, and for Gretel, a dorky teen fan (Thomas Mann) who wants to be her apprentice. And they might just need all the help they can get with Janssen, a memorable hag with wickeder-than-average intentions and apparently the only member of her coven with the ability to change her appearance so she doesn’t look like a leprous orc.

What Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm probably didn’t envision were their creations growing up to speak with decidedly American accents and wearing a duster jacket and leather pants, not to mention firing double-damage crossbows and using a stun gun as a defibrillator.

Yes, a stun gun. In what’s clearly 17th or 18th century Europe.

It’s one anachronism after another in this rollicking horror adventure, and that’s precisely what makes it work. Nobody’s expecting a period piece that’s true to history — since, you know, we’re talking about a story involving a troll and a house made entirely of sweets — so why bother with any kind of pretense?

What distinguishes this from similar but entirely unwatchable movies like “Van Helsing” and last summer’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is that the people involved here have some kind of sense of how to take something that’s pure, stupid fun and not try to make it anything more than it ought to be.

The strength of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” lays entirely in the “anything goes” splatterfest credo, which it takes to the hilt. It’s certainly not something everyone will enjoy, but, it’s a thrilling popcorn movie for a game audience.

Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.

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