For the entire month of April, Cinefessions will once again be locked inside The Asylum, reviewing tons of releases by the famed studio. Every weekday throughout April you will get another Asylum review.
I actually liked Asylum’s mockbuster Hansel & Gretel, which was obviously going after the big release Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Hansel & Gretel was set up differently, however, and they went out with an interesting twist by keeping this much closer to a modern day retelling of the fairytale than the big release did. They cast Dee Wallace as the big bad, and it had some semblance of being a pretty good film, let alone a good Asylum release. So going into Hansel vs. Gretel I was actually expecting something maybe along those lines, but between the previous film and this one there were some big changes, and this one just feels like a ridiculous sequel cash-in instead of being anything remotely good.
Our plot in the sequel, as it were, involves Hansel’s twin sister, Gretel, being seduced by a coven of witches. Hansel has to form a new witch hunting crew and they fight to liberate her from their enchanting clutches. This is the plot boiled down to its most basic. It gets a little more complicated, but the long and short of it is that Gretel’s under a spell or curse, and her twin brother, the expert witch hunter, can’t figure that out for most of the film. The fairytale vibe of the first film is completely ditched, and it tries to go for spectacle and sizzle, failing utterly with really awful dialogue to bad set-ups that really don’t help anything move along. On top of that, it never really feels like this picks up where we left off before, and just meanders around to tell its story, all while trying to make everything tense and suspenseful.
Ok, so the plot and feel are way off, but what about the really great casting of the first film? Toss that out the window. They didn’t bring Dee Wallace back to reprise her role at all, and instead recast her. If they didn’t rewrite it after she was recast to lessen the screen time, then that probably had a huge chunk to do with it. Why they couldn’t do something different I don’t know. Thankfully the replacement’s screen time is brief, but it’s also very much on the low end of entertaining.
Hansel is still played by Brent Lydic, who does a passable job with the material he’s given, but in every scene he’s in he looks like he’s about ready to bolt or punch something, which doesn’t help because not every scene calls for it. There is no subtlety to this film at all. The biggest issue is the recasting of Gretel. Stephanie Greco played her in the first film, but they recast her with Lili Baross, who doesn’t do a bad job with the material, but has a completely different vibe when she’s being normal Gretel as opposed to enchanted Gretel. By different I mean even from the first film’s Gretel. It’s jarring. I get recasting happens, but when it’s one of your two leads and you make no effort to at least try to keep it consistent, it hurts your sequel.
Then we come to the way its shot. They didn’t get the same director from Hansel & Gretel to come back and that apparently had more to do with the look than the cinematographer. The first one had this fairytale look to it, with some great lighting, and this one has none of that. The night shots are too dark, the framing isn’t even remotely close to on point, and for a sequel that’s supposed to be more action than the first, we never get a great look at what’s going on. You can add some really weird editing choices in there as well. Which then brings me to the effects. Some are decent enough, but a lot of this falls into the “not great but we’re on a budget and out of time so use it anyway” category of filmmaking.
This is baffling to me. Sure the first one was a mockbuster of a title coming out so that would have to move fast. This one feels and looks sloppily put together, but it’s a sequel to one of their own films now with nothing to openly “mockbust” at this point, so why rush it when they could have taken the time to get it right? After such a good first outing this is really disappointing in both look and feel and I hate to say it, but this isn’t the first of their sequels that turned out to be really terrible.
So we have a sequel to the Asylum’s decent film version of Hansel and Gretel, only to have it do everything wrong that a sequel can do. Parts are recast, the tone of the first film is completely thrown out for the sake of spectacle and effects that aren’t up to snuff, and it doesn’t even feel like these are taking place in the same universe, let alone related to each other. Hansel vs. Gretel is one of those sequels that has an interesting idea, but ends up falling apart.