Gretel & Hansel Movie Review
An uplifting tale of candy, cake, and chubby little children, Gretel & Hansel, like its title, turns the classic fairy tale on its head… or at least harkens back to its darker origins. Eerie, visually breathtaking and sadly lacking in candy in all actuality, Osgood Perkins’ horror film is a feast best consumed hungry.
Punching in at a taut 87 minutes, Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House) serves up a beautiful little film deserving of more recognition than it received in its limited theatrical release, even if the end product isn’t quite a gingerbread house full of goodness.
Borrowing heavily from moody fare such as The Witch, though less restrained and visionary as that masterpiece, Gretel & Hansel is a visually absorbing experience coated in shades of black, gray, and crimson. The movie looks great, and the cinematography by Galo Olivares draws you into the film with an almost poetic grace. Sophia Lillis (It) is an excellent complement to the visually heavy production; her performance relies heavily on nonverbal acting. She may just be a cog in the wheel of this moving painting, but she’s perfect for the role. (Samuel Leakey is also fine as Hansel, but as the title insinuates, this is very much Gretel’s story)
While Gretel & Hansel begins in lip-licking fashion and proceeds from there, it isn’t for everyone. It isn’t particularly scary in the traditional sense, rather leaning heavily on mood and atmosphere to flex its horror muscles. And while Alice Krige (who plays the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact) is inspired casting for the witch, Perkins never quite figures out how to use her to full effect.
The movie unfortunately loses some steam from the oven in its third act, as Perkins and screenwriter Rob Hayes are unable to avoid some predictable horror tropes. As intriguing as much of the film is, as it spirals towards its climax, the director’s tendency towards arresting imagery over hearty material finally comes to a head. The climax, as pretty as it is, could be plugged into a dozen other witch-themed movies with ease, its reliance on visual effects and special powers disappointing in the face of opportunity to do something more unique. The sudden absence of Krige both diminishes the ending and her chance to make claim to another memorable villain.
Even with a third act that falls a little short, Gretel & Hansel has plenty of flavor to satisfy your horror cravings. Oft enthralling and beautifully directed, this dark fairy tale may not be as original as it wants to be, but it comes close enough. For the record, neither Gretel nor Hansel ever appear to gain an ounce of fat, a complete failure on the witch’s part.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.