Gretel & Hansel
by Hope Madden
It’s still early, but 2020 has not been great in terms of horror.
First came Nicolas Pesce’s pointless reboot of The Grudge.
Yikes. And I do not mean that in a good way.
And then last week we had Floria Sigismondi’s boldly wrong-headed reimagining, The Turning.
In keeping with a trend, this week Oz Perkins revisits an existing story. Gretel & Hansel pick on the bones of that old fairly-tale—the one that actually did scare the shit out of me as a kid. Two kids are turned out into the woods because their parents can’t feed them. Things go from bad to worse once they’re left to fend for themselves and soon cannibalism comes into play, as I assume it always does when you get lost in the woods.
Perkins, working from a script by Rob Hayes (East Meets Barry West), abandons much of the original bits (fewer breadcrumbs). His spookier imagination is more interested in Gretel’s burgeoning womanhood.
Sophia Lillis (IT) narrates and stars as Gretel, the center of this coming of age story—reasonable, given the change of billing suggested by the film’s title. The witch may still have a tasty meal on her mind, but this is less a cautionary tale than it is a metaphor for agency over obligation.
Alice Krige and her cheekbones strike the perfect mixture of menace and mentorship, while Sammy Leakey’s little Hansel manages to be both adorable and tiresome, as is required for the story to work.
Perkins continues to impress with his talent for visual storytelling and Galo Olivares’s cinematography heightens the film’s folkloric atmosphere.
It’s unfortunate, though, that Perkins doesn’t also write. The two films he both writes and directs, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House and, in particular, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, sidestepped predictability while mining primal anxieties to produce excellent, memorable horror.
The writing here doesn’t quite reach the heights of the storyline told through imagery. Gretel & Hansel loses itself too often in a dreamscape horror without rectifying or clarifying, which leaves the metaphor foggy and the horror muted.
The whole affair feels like an intriguing if unsatisfying dream.