“Losing your way on a journey is unfortunate. But, losing your reason for the journey is a fate more cruel.” -H.G. Wells
Hansel and Gretel as it’s most remembered, Gretel & Hansel in this case, is a familiar story we all seem to know to some degree. In the film, Gretel recalls a story of a little girl banished from her village for being evil. As she begins the story Gretel mentions not recalling a time that she never knew this story, it felt as if she just always knew it as was the case with everyone she ever met. This particular story, this tale of caution in the face of unsolicited kindness, is just like the very story we know as Hansel and Gretel, it’s just kind of always been there. I can’t recall ever hearing the story, it just feels as if I know it and have since birth.
This familiarity, however much altered or altogether left out, can be both a strength and hindrance on the film as a whole. As a strength it allows the filmmakers to assume you know at least the basic outline of the fairytale. They can take this as a jumping off point rather than needing to further elaborate who Hansel is and who Gretel is when we first meet them. Unfortunately it feels as though for every strength it may provide there are two handicaps holding it back. For example, knowing the motives of the witch from the start removes any real shock value that may have otherwise existed in a lesser known tale.
It becomes obvious early on that something resides within Gretel, something different, something in need of guidance. As if pulling the short straw, Gretel gains the tutelage of a lonely old woman whose intentions never feel less than sinister. However aside from being an ominous presence, the witch is never as intimidating as the nightmares that plague Gretel’s unconscious mind. And after the third or fourth nightmare it becomes repetitive as we begin to see that she only needs to wake up from her dreams to escape them. The most disturbing imagery of the entire film happens within her mind. Are we meant to be scared by these images? I’m not so sure. The potential cannibalistic witch who absolutely exists outside of my dreams would be of a greater concern than some bad dreams.
At one point in the story Gretel does contemplate the possibility that these are not simply dreams but in fact are warnings of her impending danger. Instead of heeding what could be signs of her future in peril, she gives into them as well as the witch. Basically, a vast majority of this film is meaningless visuals, however gorgeously frightening they may be, and they are, they amount to almost nothing from a story standpoint. Gretel & Hansel is a mess of beautifully haunting visuals carrying along behind them a dead corpse of a story that is parts familiar and parts nonsensical. There is nothing driving the ship here, it is a rudderless boat meandering the open ocean.
The director of this unique vision is Osgood Perkins, his past and most known effort is the A24 slowburn, The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Mr. Perkins had the advantage of creating that specific story from scratch whereas Gretel & Hansel is a bit too familiar without any real kind of drastic changes and at that point what is the reason for telling the tale? I think what I’m saying is, for the time being at least, Hansel and his big sister Gretel should rest in obscurity for a while. It’s in the same boat as Robin Hood, we’ve heard it, seen it, imagined it, it’s been done and no one is really standing up with a new, fresh perspective. It is a fantastically dark story that if told right, with enough flair and conviction that no matter how much we already know going in, we can experience something fresh and impactful.
Gretel & Hansel has its strengths, Sophia Lillis holds her own, although never really standing out like she did in IT. The young actor portraying Hansel is better than his age would normally allow but I think maybe this character is far more annoying thus holding him back from being anything more than frustrating. As I write this however I think about how daunting a younger sibling can be and maybe that’s the point. He is afterall, the poison as the witch explains in an ominous fashion. Alice Krige is a menacing presence as the witch and is undoubtedly a talented actor who just doesn’t have as much to do as she should. She is exactly that, more presence than threat.
In the end Gretel & Hansel is a visually engaging slog through a forest without direction, not even a compass in sight to guide our journey. It feels as if it struggles to find its own identity somewhere between mainstream horror and indie. Luckily it avoids one of the most egregious movie sins and that is to overstay its welcome. This isn’t a bad movie persay, mainly because not enough occurs for it to be anything beyond ominous but innocuous.
Rated PG-13 For: disturbing images/thematic content, and brief drug material
Runtime: 87 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Mystery
Starring: Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey, Alice Krige, Jessica De Gouw
Directed By: Osgood Perkins
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 3.5/ Acting: 3.5/ Directing: 3/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 3 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: I’d leave this one alone. It’s worth a watch, once.
Check out the trailer below:
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