Then again, considering I expected it to be an early contender for one of 2013’s worst movies, even the faintest praise and most backhanded of compliments can be considered a win.
Like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” last year, “Witch Hunters” is a film that I’m still sort of shocked even exists. It’s the kind of film you expect to exist only as a fake trailer or maybe even a mildly amusing sketch on “Saturday Night Live” or something. Certainly not a movie that a studio would dump any number of millions into and give a wide (if delayed) theatrical release. Although, unlike “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Witch Hunters” never really settles into a sense of fun, an essential ingredient considering how utterly stupid the whole concept/premise is.
The title really says it all, and you don’t really get much more explanation or exposition or development than what you can glean from it. This is a violent twist on the classic fairy tale, wherein Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and his sister, Gretel (Gemma Arterton) survive an encounter with a witch (after being abandoned by their parents) and grow up to roam the European countryside tracking down and killing every witch they come across. And…that’s pretty much it.
They end up in some borderline anonymous village after being hired to track down 11 missing children, which leads to the revelation of a slightly larger plot at hand, but it feels mostly inconsequential as the script itself barely feels like it can be bothered to give any sort of weight to it, much less the director or the actors.
The action, the art direction and set design, the music score, it all feels pedestrian and as a result ends up being mostly forgettable. Its tone feels all wrong. Something like this would benefit greatly from a dose of humor (self-aware or otherwise) instead of the relentlessly grim and dark tone that permeates the proceedings. Hansel having to deal with diabetes (the witch forced him to eat too much candy, you see) should be a throwaway gag. Here it’s handled with a scowl and a nod instead of a smile and a wink.
Renner (who I bet really regrets this now that his star has risen considerably in the time since he made the movie) just looks bored in most scenes. I can’t really blame him. Arterton, bless her heart, tries just so hard to be a credible action figure with a hard-edged attitude but...just…no. These aren’t characters, even in the most cursory sense. They barely exist outside of vague descriptions on the page.
And yet, I don’t hate it. It’s mildly watchable, I suppose, the kind of movie you’d be OK with falling asleep to when it gets played three times a weekend on TBS in a few years. Maybe I came to terms with the fact that no one will likely even remember this came out in about two weeks’ time and just sort of let the whole experience slide over me like water on oil.
I suppose I should give the film some due credit. Director Tommy Wirkola made the decision to go as practical as possible at times with the special effects, which means there’s a surprising amount of actual fake blood and gore, physical sets and even Derek Mears in a huge, detailed prosthetic troll suit. In a cinematic age where most everything of that sort is done digitally anymore (to a distracting and borderline antiseptic degree), it’s nice to see that sort of attention to detail and craft, even if it’s in service to a movie that may not really deserve it.
Is this a bad movie? Most assuredly. It’s certainly not a good movie, mostly just an innocuous and forgettable one.