Gretel & Hansel
A long time ago in a distant fairy tale countryside, a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.
Anyone familiar with the original versions of classic fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel” already knows that they have lots of horror movie potential. As a rule though, most attempts to capture these tales on film tend to miss the mark. It’s clear from the conspicuous reversal of the titular names that Gretel & Hansel hopes to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack right from the get-go, but does it actually do the job, or are you better off spending 90 minutes of your time on some other film?
Gretel & Hansel is the brainchild of writer/director Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House). It stars Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey as the famous fairy tale siblings, as well as Charles Babalola, Alice Krige, and Jessica De Gouw in supporting roles.
The plotline of the film follows the story progression of the original fairy tale well enough to feel familiar to viewers, but not so much that it’s completely predictable. Gretel (Lillis) is sixteen years old while her brother (Leakey) is much younger, so it’s clear from the start that she’s meant to be the heroine. The siblings wind up alone when their father dies and their mother slips into madness, leaving them to fend for themselves in the big, bad world out there.
Eventually, their travels and misadventures lead them to a mysterious house in the woods where a lavish feast has been laid out for unknown reasons. The house turns out to be the home of an eccentric woman named Holda (Krige). Outwardly, Holda appears to want to help the siblings, but it soon becomes clear that her intentions are much more nefarious, as those familiar with the fairy tale will be expecting.
Gretel & Hansel certainly has the lush, appealing visuals down pat. This is a good-looking movie that feels visually worthy of its fairy tale origins. Unusual compositions and creative camera work do an excellent job of conveying the confusion and disorientation the siblings must feel as they face their challenges. A haunting soundtrack by Rob adds to the effect and underscores the general feeling of dreamlike dread that permeates the film.
There’s also a very deliberate mixture of old-fashioned and modern touches sprinkled throughout which adds to the appeal of the film. Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige turn in excellent performances as Gretel and Holda respectively as well. Lillis in particular keeps the viewer captivated with her expressive eyes and quietly intense way of delivering her lines.
As intriguing and promising as Gretel & Hansel is though, it suffers from weak points that keep it from reaching its full potential. To begin with, the pacing doesn’t quite hit the mark. Perkins does a terrific job of creating an atmosphere, but then never quite makes any progress with it. There’s a start-and-stall quality to the film for this reason, and it never quite delivers on the thematic richness it seems to promise. There’s also a surprising amount of gore and grimness to Gretel & Hansel for a PG-13 film, even when you consider how very violent the original Grimm’s fairy tale was.
In other words, Gretel & Hansel doesn’t quite have the polish it could have had, nor does it quite know what it wants to say as far as its underlying message. However, it’s still well worth seeing so long as you’re willing to take it for what it is. It most certainly comes closer than many of its predecessors when it comes to adapting a time-honored fairy tale into a horror film.