Early Screener Review: Hansel vs Gretel (2015)
A year after their victory over, and escape from, the clutches of the evil witch Lilith, Gretel falls under a dark spell and organizes a coven of witches of her own, leaving Hansel to find the courage to fight his twin sister and the sinister forces controlling her.
Now I should preface this with the fact that Hansel vs Gretel is a direct sequel to Asylum's 2013 modern day-set adaptation of Hansel & Gretel, a fact that I did not realize when I was first going into this movie, so I guess I'm following the trend started by regular B-Movie Shelf contributor Michael Banno, since that seems to happen to him fairly often. Because of this, there are aspects here that harken back to that movie and moments that reference that movie that I was kind of lost at since I never did watch that one. You can still watch this movie without knowledge of that one and follow it just fine, seeing as how that's exactly what I did, but there will be moments that you might be left slightly confused at, and I'm sure you'll get much more out of this movie if you've seen the previous one first.
The only actor to return for this movie was Brent Lydic as Hansel. Since I never saw the first one I can't compare his work here to how he did in that one, but looking at his low amount of IMDB credits (most of which are Shorts), I was surprised that he was as good as he was here, and that he was always a pleasure to watch whether it was slaying witches or just so much as firing off witty lines or delivering little bits of witch-lore exposition. This version of the character, as played by this actor, would fit perfectly at home on an adventure with the infamous Winchester brothers of Supernatural fame, and seeing him do what he does best, I.E. slay witches, you would be hard pressed to find another actor that fits the epitome of 'smooth', 'cool' and 'witch hunter' better than Brent Lydic. And oh yes, there is plenty of witch slaying action to be had in this movie.
Actually, the movie had quite the high number of gore shots, both directed towards the witches in addition to at the hands of the witches. Right within the first couple minutes, we get a head smashed in with a boot, followed by opening credits cutting back and forth between human meat being cut up and hanging on hooks, and during the rest of the movie we get such classics as a witch ripping a bone out of her own body to cut the ropes she's tied with, a not-so-dead skinned rabbit in a tub of its own blood jumping to life, and plenty of witch-slaying beheadings, guttings, eye-gougings, and burnings just to mention a few of the many offerings this movie has for gore hounds. Luckily it's also not just all-gore-no-substance, ohhh nooo, there are also quite a few nice creepy scenes of genuine tension and nicely-built atmosphere to boot, such as one scene where a character is walking down a long underground hallway with leaking pipes and dimmed lights, hearing a witch cackling from somewhere nearby, or a scene where a witch is stalking her prey in a room filled with thick smoke and gas and toying with their heads as she does so. This movie certainly has no shortage on scenes built around gore in addition to scenes built around creepy atmosphere, and sometimes, when we're lucky, scenes built around both at the same time.
Alongside Brent Lydic is a relative unknown, Lili Baross, playing the role of Gretel. She's new to the role in this movie, taking over from Stephanie Greco who played the role in the previous movie. Since I never saw that one I can't compare how she did compared to the previous actress, but for her time in this movie she did pretty good. There were a few moments where her inexperience came through a bit more obviously than during the rest, but for the most part she did pretty good, and she handled the scenes where she had to flip back and forth between acting evil and acting sweet and innocent masterfully.
However, that flip flopping of Gretel is also cause for one of my big complaints about this movie. The fact that Gretel is now a witch herself acts as a big revealing plot twist part way through the movie...except for the fact that I have no idea why they bothered to make such a big deal out of it as if it was supposed to be a surprise, when the plot synopsis and even the very title of the movie itself totally gives it all away. Despite acting like we weren’t supposed to already know, we obviously do and because of that I would have liked to see her evil reveal much sooner in the movie than we do, cause most of that first half we're just waiting around for it to happen, and during pretty much the entire movie save for the last ten minutes or so, we're waiting for Hansel, who is meandering about town trying to solve these witch crimes, to finally clue in to what the viewers already know the entire time. It's a pet peeve of mine when a movie is built around characters trying to figure out what we, as viewers, already know because we get antsy and impatient waiting, since each new big reveal the characters come across, we already know about. It's always much more engaging when we're on that journey right alongside the characters, finding twists and turns and information out as they themselves do. And to make it worse, this movie doubles up on that, as Hansel spends pretty much the entire runtime trying to figure out who the main witch is here when we already know it's Gretel, and likewise the Coven of witches that take her in under their wing spend the entire runtime thinking they're in charge of her when really, we know from pretty much the beginning that she's actually the one that's playing them the entire time. Both aspects would have made for amazing twists had we found those things out alongside the characters themselves, but instead we know all this right from the onset and spend the entire movie watching the characters flounder around trying to find it out for themselves.
All in all, Hansel vs Gretel is one really fun addition to Asylum's library. It's not perfect, and the ending really annoyed me for reasons I can't go into without major major spoilers, but the fun non-stop witch slaying action, above-average performance by Brent Lydic, pleasing amounts of gore and creepy atmosphere, and a pulse-pounding action-packed musical score used at all the right moments really help this one overcome it's downfalls, most of which could have been fixed with just a little tweaking of the screenplay here and there.
Having not yet seen the first movie in this series, I admit that some aspects of things in the movie may have been previously explained in Hansel & Gretel (such as exactly why Gretel is so interested in being a witch all of a sudden; that never gets even touched upon here), so I need to make a point of going back and watching that one ASAP. As it is, despite that, I still mostly had a blast with this movie and wouldn't mind seeing just one more in the series to cover what happens next after that very sudden and annoyingly-unresolved ending.
7/10 Rooms in the Psych Ward