What you may or may not remember about the Brothers Grimm' story is over and done with in the first ten minutes of writer-director Tommy Wirkola's revisionist treatment of the classic tale, which basically imagines what happens after the happily ever after. And so Wirkola fast- forwards the story many years later, where he would like us to believe that Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have found their calling as witch hunters, travelling around from village to village killing the evil ones who kidnap children and rescuing their abductees in the process.
One particular such mission brings them to the town of Augsburg, where a beautiful blonde-haired woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala) is due to be drowned in front of an angry crowd by the shifty Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare). The Mayor (Rainer Bock) is not so fast to pronounce judgment on her for the spate of disappearances, and has hired Hansel and Gretel to get to the bottom of it. Seeing no visible signs of sorcery on her, Hansel and Gretel free her, inadvertently setting themselves on a collision course with the Sheriff.
But the bitter Sheriff and his band of hunters are the least of their problems – indeed, their most pressing concern is the Grandmother Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and her hench-women, who have been keeping the children they have kidnapped locked up in wait for a much more sinister plot to make them even more powerful. Of course, as narrative dictates, Muriel's plan would have something to do with Hansel and Gretel's own past, as well as their extraordinary ability to be immune from the spells of witches.
Savvy viewers will be able to spot the connection once the clues are laid, so don't expect a revelatory surprise at the end. That doesn't mean however that this reimagination is predictable; instead, Wirkola keeps you riveted with a surprisingly effective blend of horror and hilarity often within the very same scene. Case in point? Just before she forces someone to turn a shotgun on himself and splatter his brains onto the wall, Muriel comments how the room they are in looks somehow drab and could do with some colour.
That same irreverence pervades the entire movie, which shouldn't come as a surprise if you paid attention to the opening credits and spotted Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as producers of the movie. Their brand of rude cheeky humour is very much alive in Wirkola's first English-language feature, who had demonstrated through his debut movie lampooning Quentin Tarantino – Kill Buljo – that he is perfectly in tune with their sensibilities. But Wirkola also brings his eye for gore – seen in his sophomore film 'Dead Snow' – to this movie, so be prepared for exploding flesh, crushed skulls and some particularly nasty decapitations that is good reason why this grown-up version of Hansel and Gretel does not carry a kid-friendly rating.
Amidst the gore and adult humour, Renner and Arterton unfortunately are left with paper-thin characters. While Renner pretty much looks dour throughout the movie, Arterton seems determined to have fun with her ass-kicking female heroine of a role, and her portrayal of Gretel resembles a Lara Croft for the medieval ages. The scene-stealer however is Janssen, the former Bond villain once again relishing the opportunity to play against type as the villain and putting in a deliciously over- the-top performance as Muriel. Other supporting actors don't make much of an impression – including Thomas Mann, a firm Hansel and Gretel devotee who gets some laughs from his fanboy behaviour and eventually sees his wish come true to be a witch hunter like his heroes.
And we suspect, how much you will end up enjoying this new twist to the classic fairy tale will also depend on your expectations. Compared to the recent spate of fairytale-inspired Hollywood movies like 'Red Riding Hood' or 'Snow White and the Huntsman', it veers most far off from its source material to tell an entirely different story. The result of that novelty is something bloody all right, that can also prove to be bloody good fun if you're looking for an adult-oriented blend of action, adventure, fantasy, horror and comedy. It might not sound intuitive, but this fairy tale is best enjoyed without the kids.