FrightFest 2013: Hansel & Gretel: The 420 Witch

Anton Bitel

Just as 2012 was the year when Snow White came in for some radical post-millennial reimaginings (Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, Blancanieves), so 2013 is the year that Hansel and Gretel find their way back into our imaginations. First there was David DeCoteau's forgettable DTV Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, then there was Tommy Wirkola's big-budget action FXtravaganza Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – but what distinguishes Duane Journey's Hansel & Gretel: the 420 Witch from both of these is its contemporary LA setting. For this is the Grimms' fairytale retold as both teen horror lite (it is from the Twilight Saga producer Mark Morgan) and stoner comedy (its other, frankly much better title is Hansel & Gretel Get Baked).

While their parents are away for the weekend with the Stiltskins, Gretel is sampling a new, extra-mellow marijuana strain known as Black Forest High with her boyfriend Ashton (Andrew James Allen). When the latter disappears on a run to get another baggy, Gretel turns to her brother Hansel (Michael Welch) to help investigate the little old lady named Agnes (Lara Flynn Boyle) who is home-growing the gear – even as a local dealer, three aggressive gangbangers, a pair of police officers and some gas metre readers (the first played by an unrecognisable Cary Elwes) are all converging on Agnes' Pasadena home. And although her crop is organic, there is something unnatural afoot.

As this film flipflops between the siblings' house and Agnes', before getting lost in the magical labyrinth of fertile buds that fill the less-old-in-each-scene Agnes' basement, it would be tempting to ascribe the aimless, meandering pace to the effects of too much pot – but that is a poor excuse for what is really just muddle-headed writing. So non-existent is the rapport between Hansel and Gretel, and so lacking is either one of them in any engaging qualities, that it comes as a blessed relief when Bianca (Bianca Saad), vapid girlfriend to a missing dealer, emerges as a character with some kind of spark to light up the film's dying embers.

"Honestly, once you're a day over 40, they think you've got one foot in the grave," says Agnes, in what is an ongoing meta-commentary on the fate of Hollywood actresses who, like Boyle herself, have passed an invisible timeline. Boyle is, of course, the very best part of the film, having palpable fun as the émigrée witch with the Benjamin Button approach to ageing. Liberally toking away when she is not flesh eating or soul swallowing, Agnes does not just overpower all the locals who come to her house, but also totally outclasses them. Still, for the most part the film's literally high concept is executed without conviction, while its greatest crime is to forget to be funny. 4:20 may be the new witching hour, but this is hardly Class A stuff.

Catch 'Hansel & Gretel: The 420 Witch' at Film4 FrightFest...

Discovery Screen 2, Fri 23rd August, 12.50pm
Discovery Screen 1, Sun 25th August, 12.50pm

Follow Anton on Twitter: @AntBit

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