So, in trying to ease everyone into this, I wanted to talk about the storied history of Snow White on film, and how the various adaptations of the fairy tale reflect the cultural conversation in which each film was made. Then I realized that this movie wasn’t really interested in the actual fairy tale, so I would just be writing about a series of Snow White movies for my own amusement, and ignoring the film right in front of us that has so many other things that happened to it (because this is a very “What happened to this film?” film).
So, Snow White and the Hunstman is kind of a mess and I have a lot of questions because I still feel like someone and their anxious production designer filmed a draft by accident?
1. The movie goes like this: Ravenna is an evil queen who kills men because she hates men for being susceptible to beauty and also wants to rule over them all forever (good, thanks, helpful). Somehow, word of the Merry Widow never spread, and Snow White’s dad falls victim to the business. Snow White, who until then knew only that she liked healing little hurt birds in her bedroom, and that her departed mother told her she had great beauty, ON THE INSIDE WHERE BEAUTY COUNTS OKAY MESSAGE EVERYONE MESSAGE, is imprisoned by the jealous Queen, who has taken the throne with the help of her brother/boyfriend the evil albino (good, thanks, helpful) and maintains her magic powers and beauty by sucking the youth out of village lasses. When Snow White frees herself, the Queen sends a Huntsman into the wood after her, but he’s impressed by her bravery and switches sides. Meanwhile, her childhood friend has heard she’s alive and is out to help her if he can. Together, they will win over grumpy dwarves, raise an army, and defeat the evil Queen as per usual! (There is not a lot of suspense in this movie. In fact, despite how crazyballs things get in this review, the movie was markedly unexciting in its badness, as if, unable to decide between epic and camp, they encouraged people to “Just do whatever,” including the scriptwriters, and this is what happened.)
2. This movie is good-looking. Atmospheric establishing shots, eyeball-eating close-ups, evocative landscapes, good costumes. You’ll recognize most of them from when you saw them the first time in Legend, Willow, any Bathory movie, Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Legend, The Fugitive, Ferngully, The Neverending Story, Lord of the Rings, and Snow White: A Tale of Terror. There are two big CGI enchanted-forest set pieces that they clearly spent a mint on, in which characters meander for some contractually-obligated amount of time, but for all the adorable moss-covered-turtle trappings, there’s nothing particularly interesting that wasn’t just as good, elsewhere, first. (The evil queen gets the bulk of the visual impact, with milk baths and brass-cloak familiars, and the movie’s one stunning image, a flock of wounded crows dropping from the sky and turning into a crippled oil slick from which the Queen painfully drags herself.) But still, you can see that care was taken.
3. Which is more than you can say for the acting. Hemsworth somnambulates his way through the movie, lobbing his lines with a “Scottish accent” that sounds more like he’s talking around a jawful of loose teeth, and occasionally staring just to the left of the camera to try to establish chemistry with Snow White (a lot of palpable effort, to the effect of the biggest “meh” in the world, which gets awkward later). Kristen Stewart does her level best, which is still not very good.
Charlize Theron went for the full Ham-Off, which is a move I respect, especially if most of your scenes are you alone in a tower room shouting at stuff that will be CGIed in later. However, you really have to know what you’re doing if you’re going to step into a mess like this and go big. Charlize went big, and she lost big. Never has someone sounded so much like they are physically choking on every line. (Seriously. It is a fig-in-the-throat, phlegm-heavy Queen in this tower.)
4. Sam Claflin, on the other hand, nimbly sidesteps this entire thing by coming out of left field with melodrama experience under his belt (Pillars of the Earth) and some subtle facial expressions in his arsenal, and delivers a genuinely good performance that upset whatever plans they had for this love triangle, which is the fucking worst, which we will talk about later, because that’s not Sam Claflin’s fault.
(Note: Dude has a weird and unfortunate gift for looking awful in every still photo of him I’ve ever seen. May or may not be his fault. Good luck with that, person who chose acting as a profession!)
5. Other things that we can safely assume are not Sam Claflin’s fault: the evil albino perving-on-Snow-White-since-she-was-a-kid nonsense, the fact that the one character of color works for the Queen as a hunter/tracker (good, thanks, helpful), the seven dwarves being CGI-doubled with actors like Ian McShane, who I am normally thrilled to see, but bugs me a little here.
6. In fact, let’s talk about the seven dwarves. There are some vaguely-infantilized hostile bumblers, a stoner bumbler, Bob Hoskins the Blind Guy Who Makes Prophecies and Points Out When People Fulfill Other People’s Prophecies Literally This is His Job, and the guy who asks Snow White to dance, and has to teach her because the deportment teacher didn’t come to the tower, and “teaches” her that dances end with big long hugs that make her uncomfortable but she apparently has no choice about! (We will get there.) Since they don’t come into the film until past the one-hour mark, and serve minimal narrative purpose, it’s good they took the time to really make these dwarves characters we can really ROOT for, you know? (You think I’m kidding, but after Awkward Hugger gets killed protecting Snow White, there is a haunting dirge-song played at his funeral by the other dwarves, which is taken up by a guest vocalist as they go into the Lord of the Rings Travel Montage So Blatant that Four Other People in My Theatre Cracked Up, Too. The song is lovely and sad, and I think I would have really enjoyed the moment, except that everything else about it was utterly shitty, disguised as trying to make Fetch happen.)
7. I feel the script falls down like this a LOT. It’s hilarious and shitmazing in equal measures. Example: Snow White Fugitives her way out of the sewer drain into the ocean, hauls herself out of the water, and follows her bird-friends down a stretch of abandoned beach, where a wild horse is curled up, chilling out in front of the waves, just waiting for Snow White to need a way to get from the ocean to the forest without running a lot. The soundtrack suggests it’s mystical! (Nope.)
Moments later, the horse balks at the edge of the forest, slips, and starts to slide into a sinkhole. After valiantly managing not to shout “ARTAX!”, Snow White sees the guards approaching, casts the horse a “sorry, dude” look, and runs away. The horse sinks.
This is our first scene with our heroine. I am just saying.
8. The other most shitmazing addition to this fine tale is Bechdel Village, where Snow White and the Hunstman take shelter early on. It’s a city of women whose dudes have been killed in the war with the Queen; they’re all marked with thin vertical scars, one or two on each cheek, and they are living as a tribe under the radar quite competently and everything seems very promising.
Then matriarch Rachael Stirling, who I was pleased to see until I realized where this was going, explains to Snow White, “These scars keep us safe; without beauty, we have no value to the Queen.”
First of all, I have to remind everyone in this movie that we already saw the Queen drain a young lovely lass, and the lass still looked equally lovely, only older, so a village full of 9-to-35-year-olds is a pretty prime demographic for the Queen, according to this movie’s own logic. Second of all, Beastly called; it wants its bullshit rhetoric about minor cosmetic imperfections being completely repulsive back.
9. And with this sterling example of quality control as a lead-in, let’s talk about the love triangle.
The thing is this: it is entirely possible for a shitty movie to have a decent love triangle. Red Riding Hood, which we can all agree was sort of the worst, had an amazing “love triangle” where two people were in love and the parents invited a third dude who got the mood of the room and quickly peaced out with minimum drama and maximum helpfulness. If you want your movie to have a legitimate dilemma between two different but equally feasible romantic prospects, let’s do that! I am up for that if you handle it intelligently!
Here is what actually happens. Snow White has a childhood friend, torn from her during the Queen’s takeover, and he grew up to be an acrobatic archer resistance leader; he thinks Snow White is dead, and as soon as he hears she’s alive, he joins the Queen’s kill squad so he can be on the front lines and get Snow White out of harm’s way whenever they find her. Check. The Huntsman was hired to find Snow White, but almost immediately switches sides because the Queen’s brother is a terrible HR manager and agrees the Queen is just going to kill Hunstman anyway. Hunstman has Manpain and seems to think Snow White is a feisty heroine out to cause trouble and be sassy, even though textually there is zero evidence for that and every time he says it you can hear the line falling to the ground, like someone dropped an extremely dense muffin on a kitchen floor. Sure, check, helpful.
When they end up both falling into her service, there is obvious interest in her from both dudes, but they do not make it a pissing contest and she is generally busy with other stuff and not really worrying about it, which is an aces way for a love triangle to go.
Then they get to the winter forest. (Also, this is a winter forest, even though like two days ago it was spring and technically they were wandering into mountains except that those mountains were more super-summery-foothills and also this is a very level winter area full of birch trees, and no one mentions magic which would be an easy fix here, they are all just like, oh gosh, winter is lovely, can’t wait for spring. SPRING WAS TWO DAYS BEHIND YOU WHAT IS GOING ON. This movie is like this a lot, sorry.)
In the winter forest, Snow White is walking and thinking, and William appears. They chat, even though he seems a bit off (spoilers), and then she recalls their bickering childhood, then she leans in and mashes her face to his face for some kissing. Awkward part: it’s not William, it’s the Queen in very obvious-to-the-audience disguise, and now Snow White is dying from poison apple, whoops! (PS, Sam Claflin must have really enjoyed getting some vicarious Ham-Off action here before he had to go back to being stalwart.)
Real William and the Huntsman show up, drive back the Queen (slicing all those ravens up!), and then William falls beside Snow White and weeps and kisses her, and nothing happens. Later, drunk Huntsman (there is always drunk Huntsman, Hemsworth must have consumed 800 gallons of water on camera) talks to her corpse in the crypt in William’s dad’s castle where she’s being interred. He tells her all about the Manpain of his angelic wife who died and how now he’s sad forever and who will save him since Snow White reminded him so much of his wife and he hoped SHE would save him, and then he kisses her and leaves, and then she wakes up.
Things that the movie does not address: Whether she knows who woke her with the kiss or not. There are hints either way, but the last twenty minutes of this movie is basically sequel bait, and if they wanted you to tell what had happened based on subtle and evocative wordless communications between these actors, they picked the wrong actors.
Things that do not matter to the movie: This is not a love triangle any more! Snow White made a choice! She mashed William’s face in the woods and only the awkwardness of accidental overwhelming lesbian subtext broke that kiss up! If there had been indications she was torn about which dude to facemash, then maybe this would be less gross. If she had expressed interest in both dudes and this was just stage one of kissing the dudes she liked to determine which one she wanted to facemash more in future, then this would be less gross.
But what the movie actually told us is this: Snow White made a choice, but it doesn’t matter what she chose, because the MOVIE chooses, not the lady.
GOOD. THANKS. HELPFUL.
This is such a huge sticking point for me that I spent the rest of the movie with my lip curled, recoiling from everything this movie was trying to do. Suddenly, Snow White’s predestination as a magical Mary Sue who heals the sick (except when they have arrows in them) and is destined to bring Life back to the Land and all the other prophecy BS that usually tampers with free will had paled in comparison to the idea that when she actively made a choice, THE NARRATIVE SAID, “NOPE.” So Kristen Stewart got to ride a horse into battle and run up a million stairs and face off against the evil Queen and I could not have cared less because I was still quietly shrieking inside and begging all the characters to go on strike.
10. There’s going to be a sequel! That’s…a thing that will happen!