Fairy tales were always intended to be dark, scary stories that quickly and effectively imparted a moral to children, generally by scaring the bejeezus out of them. Kids get eaten, animals turn violent, trustworthy adults morph into monsters, blood runs in the streets. And those are the mild ones. Yikes. That’s why I was so disappointed a few weeks ago when I saw the goofy, daft version of Snow White called “Mirror, Mirror” and realized they’d scrubbed it a la Disney and turned the story into a romantic comedy with no tension left. Just bad acting and some tired visual effects.

The core story of a princess who has to fight the arrival of evil after years of exile in the woods, a king who is seduced and murdered by his pretty new wife, a jealous step-mother who assigns a server the thankless job of murdering the step-daughter because she’s destined to grow up and be the fairest in the kingdom, now that’s material you should be able to work with!

The previews for ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ certainly make it look unrelievedly dark. In fact, I expected rather a horror film with dark themes and ominous imagery. And to some extent, that’s what the film delivers. There’s a darkness, an aggressive evil overtone that really makes the film hum with an energy that feels quite appropriate to the quite dramatic story.

But the new film’s also flawed. Fundamentally flawed by two major problems: inappropriate comic relief that is akin to a cute kitten scene being added to the directors cut of ‘The Shining’, and some of the worst performances I’ve seen on screen in a while. Surprisingly, though, it’s not so much Kristen Stewart’s turn as Snow White that was a problem, as most critics feared when the cast was originally announced, but talented actress Charlize Theron as the evil step-mom and queen Ravenna. She was way too monotone in a role that really required someone who would scare the crap out of us viewers and would come across as the worst thing to hit the kingdom ever, a permanent threat to the peace and tranquility of humanity and a violent cobra of a woman coiled, waiting to strike and destroy Snow.

To round out the cast of characters, the huntsman is played by the always likable Chris Hemsworth and when he wielded his axe I have to admit I expected it to turn into a hammer: I think he’s getting overexposed, especially in roles where he has to be rugged and have long, stringy hair.  The cast is rounded out by Snow’s childhood sweetheart William, who is played rather tediously by Sam Claflin. What would she have ever seen in this wallflower of a royal during what’s ostensibly medieval times populated by tough, rugged masculine archetypes?

The love triangle isn’t the interesting part of this story, however. It’s the tension between Ravenna, the über-evil queen and step-mom, and Snow, the beautiful ingenue who has to find her own inner strength to defeat the woman who has murdered her beloved father the King and stolen the kingdom. Which makes it more ironic that the telling has The Huntsman and William defeating most of the evil forces, though Snow does finally defeat Ravenna. But even that, to be consistent with the theme of the fairy tale, should have her being defeated through love, not the dastardly manner Snow uses.

Ah well. I enjoyed ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’. I just would love to see the script in the hands of a more sophisticated director who didn’t feel the urge to relieve the tension in the film with daft dwarves and lame comic lines, and who could cast  strong, powerful actresses in the lead roles. With that, it could have been terrific. As it is, it’s just meh.