Brothers Grimm (2005)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Do you remember reading the tales of the Brothers Grimm as a child? They are nothing like the Disney counterparts, where everything has a happy ending. They are dark, morbid, bleak, and gruesome. This film is no different, but despite the fantastic previews, never lives up to its potential and relies on sick humor to gain a few halfhearted chuckles from a shocked audience.

Banishing supernatural evil is a lucrative business for the Brothers Grimm. Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger) come to the rescue of impoverished villages disturbed by all manner of troll, ghost, ghoul, and witch, and for a stupendous sum in gold, rid them of their ghastly problems. The two are con men, first arranging the "haunting" of local mills and then building heroism out of it. Bookish Jacob transcribes the details of their adventures in a book, hoping to build stories out of their findings as they travel the world. He has never quite lived down a childhood folly, that of trading the family cow for "magic beans." A local French police inspector has discerned their schemes and intends to recruit them into ridding a nearby town of a succession of mysterious kidnappings. He believes similar tricksters are at work in the wood.

Threatening them with death if they do not comply, he takes the Brothers Grimm to the town where ten girls have vanished. They are snatched by the enchanted wood. Lured into their plans to unearth the deviousness afoot is a woodland maiden, Angelika (Lena Headey), ostracized for her education and left orphaned after the death of her father. The further into the wood they venture, the more Jacob becomes convinced that an ancient spell is at work. It involves a witch locked in a secret tower and an ancient evil waiting to be reawakened. The Brothers Grimm has its moments. I have rarely seen such a beautifully artistic film in terms of setting an eerie atmosphere. The banal use of muted colors rivals the marvel Tim Burton set with Sleepy Hollow, creating a very dark and morose canvas on which the characters are painted. The cinematography is breathtaking, and the costume design is captivating, but that cannot lift a poorly-written script from the refuge of humor that fails to make one laugh, gruesome visuals, and troubling content.

There is an interesting use of faerie tale references, such as the tower without a door, two children dropping breadcrumbs in the wood, a little girl in a red cloak, and a magic mirror. The best ten minutes of the production are spent in the tower room, seen through a misleading mirror, and involve the evil queen. Had they made the movie more about her, I might have actually been enchanted. There is only occasional language (one harsh abuse of deity, profanities and vulgarities in several languages) and sexual content is implied rather than explicitly shown (Will takes two girls upstairs, inviting them to play a game of magic mirror, then is shown sleeping on a bed with them both; the tower witch displays occasional cleavage, and people lick frogs to gain favors) but gruesome visual effects come into play, often to the determent of animals, which deeply troubled me. Violence consists of numerous individuals being snatched, bludgeoned, dropped from great heights, and stabbed with occasionally gory results. Two bloody, severed human heads are shown, along with half of a man's corpse. A child is attacked through a bewitched well, resulting in her eyes, nose, and mouth vanishing from her face and appearing on a mud blob that consumes her and turns into a horrific version of the gingerbread man. A demonic horse swallows a child whole, then flees into the wood with its innards grotesquely stretched and kicking. 

Twice I felt physically ill, and on the second occasion nearly left. An animal lover such as me has no need or desire to see a rabbit being skinned and gutted, and the sight of a kitten being kicked into a rotating blade and dismembered is enough to make anyone sick. Both were intended to generate laughs. They failed. I had been disappointed in the film up till that point, but after that started to hate it. Animal abuse is no laughing matter. There are numerous references to witchcraft and spells; the wood is under a curse, making trees able to move and using bugs to the evil queen's advantage. Her rotting corpse is seen more than once. Christianity takes a mild bashing when Angelika says that "Christian" invaders took over the country a century before, murdering all the villagers and reducing a sacred pagan wood into mere territory. Will identifies with Christian imagery, a cross before him as he promises townspeople that their salvation is at hand.

I don't quite know what to say about this film. On some levels it provided intriguing entertainment, but on others was seriously insulting. I wanted much more out of it. The most fascinating aspect of the film was the evil queen, who didn't seem all that evil. For the most part, I felt The Brothers Grimm was a waste of my time. Hallmark's The 10th Kingdom tackled many of the same subjects, with far more intelligence and emotion. I would encourage you to consider the latter, which is much longer and more involved but has an ultimately rewarding conclusion.