Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is finally off the shelf and in theaters. But another Hansel & Gretel has just reached shelves, store shelves. The latter is from The Asylum and is clearly meant to capitalize on the former’s release. But who did it better?
In the Hollywood version, written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) slew the witch as they did in the classic fairy tale and have grown up to do it for a living. Their talents are called upon when a town’s children are abducted and witches are suspected of being responsible. And, they’re right. Head witch in charge Muriel (Famke Janssen) has discovered a way to make witches immune to fire; it just requires the sacrifice of the children in a blood moon ritual.
On the other hand, The Asylum’s title, directed by Anthony C. Ferrante and written by Jose Prendes, works the traditional story into the modern day. The Hansel (Brent Lydic) and Gretel (Stephanie Greco) here are young adults who wander into the woods and the former gets injured from a bear trap (hmm, wonder why that’s there?). They spot only one house in the area and it turns out to belong to Lilith (Dee Wallace), Gretel’s employer who runs a bakery. A specialty of this bakery is meat pies, and the siblings soon find themselves amongst captives who will end up the ingredients.
Both are actually quite different in terms of genre and tone. Wirkola’s film is really more of an action movie in a horror world, a Van Helsing wannabe. There are touches of humor throughout, both in trying to modernize the medieval setting (like milk bottles with sketches of missing children tied to them) and reference to the original (Hansel being fed so much candy by the first witch that he ends up with diabetes).
But that’s really the high point for this version. It’s at best a fairly decent ride throughout and the supporting cast, which features Peter Stormare as the town sheriff and Derek Mears as a monster henchman of Muriel, isn’t put to its full potential. Janssen does alright, but has played better villains elsewhere.
The other is a horror film, and really much better than most of its ilk. It truly does justice to its namesake; if the Grimms were alive today, this is the story they would make. There are some issues here and there (like an extremely lame “last minute shock” ending that I want to completely disregard), but Wallace is a standout. She is manically unhinged, maybe even a little too over-the-top at times, yet nonetheless shows effort in a part many actresses would likely prefer to phone in.
As for Hansel and Gretel themselves, the bigger names don’t pull it off. Renner and Arterton are 15 years apart in age; yeah, not believable siblings (especially when the younger versions shown seem to be one or two years apart). They should have gotten an older actress like Jennifer Garner, who Arterton appears to be channeling. Lydic and Greco though do make a plausible brother and sister. I don’t know their exact ages, but can’t imagine the gap if any is nearly that wide.
Both movies feature gore and violence, but that of Witch Hunters is very underwhelming. Given the resources available to them, this really should not be the case. While those found in the other are clearly low-budget, it packs more of a punch.
And how about the thing that’s become synonymous with the story: bread crumbs? Witch Hunters… nope. Did not catch any reference. The Asylum’s… yes! Not bread crumbs precisely, but an analogue is used. Further proof that it stays true to its origins.
And so the winner? Hansel & Gretel, no subtitle. Better luck next time Hollywood.
And this is not the end of it. I found on IMDB three more movies for this year: Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, Hansel & Gretel Get Baked, and Hansel & Gretel in 3D. Now that middle one sounds intriguing.
Perhaps I called it too soon?