I’m a little behind, but I finally got to see “Gretel and Hansel”. Released in theaters in January, “Gretel and Hansel” is now available on digital for rent or purchase. The classic Grimm fairytale gets a new vision from writer and director Osgood Perkins. Overflowing with the highest achievement of stunning visual style and originality. The fairytale has never been as stylish and intelligent as Perkins’ film. Largely faithful to its source material in spirit but stretching in interesting new directions. The two leads, Sophia Lillis dominates in a powerful screen presence, even though her accent goes in and out. While veteran actress Alice Krige gives a delicious and haunting performance. Armed with impressive performances, a thoroughly engaging script, magnificent and stunning visuals and a foreboding soundscape. Oz Perkins gets a real shot here and succeeds in establishing himself as a vital horror auteur. It’s got “cult movie” written all over it.
“You don’t have to see things to know that they’re there”.
Gretel (Sophia Lillis)
The Grimm fairy tales are supposed to feel creepy, full of dread and effective. Director Osgood Perkins (who goes by Oz Perkins), new adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel” has all of that, including the highest achievement of stunning visual style and originality. Transforming the story of “Hansel and Gretel” into a horror movie is hardly a leap of any kind and it’s been done before. The most recent being the 2013 horror, fantasy, action, adventure “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” With Jeremy Renner.
No adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel” has ever been as stylish and intelligent as in Oz Perkins, “Gretel and Hansel.” The latest film from the independent horror auteur, tweaks the classic tale to give us something new, with a different perspective on the story. It is full of severe production design and sensitive characterizations, and unsettling ideas about where fairy tales come from.
Orion Pictures, were one of the prominent studios in the 80’s and early 90’s, who have slowly made there return in the past two years. “Gretel and Hansel” is Orion’s attempt at the kind of smart artsy horror, that current studio A24 is so great at. Oz Perkins (who is the son of Norman Bates himself, actor Anthony Perkins) and his co-screenwriter Rob Hayes first obvious new take on the classic story of “Hansel and Gretel” is now flipped as “Gretel and Hansel”, in an attempt to let you know this is focused on Gretel and Hansel playing second fiddle.
In “Gretel and Hansel”, we find Gretel (Sophia Lilis of “IT” chapter 1 and 2) and her younger brother Hansel (Sammy Leakey) are sent to live in a convent by their mother when she is unable to provide for them. On their journey they discover, nestled amongst the foliage, a very swank looking triangular cottage.
Drawn to the house by the smell of cake, bread and roasted pig, they are greeted by its owner: an elderly woman named Holda (Alice Krige) who sports some gnarly black fingertips. She offers her whole smorgasbord of food and invites them to stay, and eat their fill and escape the seemingly hopeless world outside her doors.
“Fairy tales have a way of getting into your head”.
Holda (Alice Krige)
After deciding to stay with Holda and her limitless feast, Gretel offers to help her with chores around the house in exchange for her hospitality. It isn’t long before Gretel begins to suspect that their situation is too good to be true, and she must fight the temptations rising within her to save her brother and herself.
Perkins and screenwriter Rob Hayes keep the simple story of “Hansel and Gretel” intact but giving us the opportunity to savor the experience in a new way. The director’s approach to the woodland sequences, rife with introspective voice-overs and dreamy montage, calls to mind a Terrence Malick movie on ‘shrooms.
While the second half of “Gretel & Hansel” is a creepy saga of temptation and empowerment, as Gretel finds herself repulsed but encouraged by Holda to embrace the inner strengths that everybody else told her were weaknesses. Gretel knows there isn’t something right about Holda who has vast buffets of food that she prepares nightly, that seemingly come from nowhere, since she has no livestock or farmland to speak of? That is where Perkins lands one of his many visceral moments, in which we find out where the witch’s food comes from.
“Be careful with that, dear. I’d hate to see you start something you can’t stop”.
Holda (Alice Krige)
It’s easy to get swept up in the bracing style of “Gretel & Hansel.” Galo Olivares, the camera operator and “cinematography collaborator” behind Netflix Oscar winner “Roma”, beautifully and chillingly frames each sequence. With the exception of the fairy tale prologue (which is shot in anamorphic widescreen), “Gretel & Hansel” is shot in a 1.55:1 aspect ratio Galo Olivares. This helps make each frame feel like a page in a storybook.
Production designer Jeremy Reed (“I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House”) and art director Christine McDonagh (“Into the Badlands”), also deserves credit for their work in following Perkins’ stark aesthetic in a striking and grotesque vision. It’s a moody film that is so gorgeous in its imagery that you almost wish it were a silent film. Perkins delivers one striking image after another, placing an emphasis on shadows, natural light and candles that even Kubrick or Guillermo Del Toro would have admired.
Largely faithful to its source material in spirit but stretching out in interesting new directions. “Gretel & Hansel” may alienate some horror movie fans who are looking for gore or those lame-o jump scares. That’s the beautiful thing about Perkins film, that he displays the confidence not to rely on cheap jump scares. He invests the spookiness much like Del Toro does, with uncommon visual elegance.
“The thing about poison is that nothing in this big bad world tastes as sweet”.
Holda (Alice Krige)
At a brief 87 minutes, the film is deliberately and leisurely paced, it’s meant to be a slow burn but it moved rather quickly. Perkins has an emphasis on atmosphere and mood rather than looking for visceral shocks. He trusts the intelligence of his audience, as Perkins gives us a delectably smart concoction, by thoughtfully reevaluating the original tale, adding new layers and keeping the story rooted in an undefined form of fairy tale past.
Perkins biggest drawback is that he took so much time to potboil and to percolate the tension, he culminates in a rushed ending that does the film a slight disservice. It’s not that the ending isn’t satisfying; it’s completely satisfying it just happens so quickly and feels rushed.
Along with the many positive things about “Gretel and Hansel”, is South African actress Alice Krige. Her horror movie credits stretch as far back as 1981’s “Ghost Story”, also having memorable roles in “Star Trek First Contact”, “Silent Hill”, “Chariots Zoe Fire” and what I remembered her most from Stephen King’s “Sleepwalkers”. Krige is formidably scary in one of the most memorable moments, as she slowly pulls a long braid of hair, complete with ribbon, out of her mouth.
“Guests? I’d rather have roaches”.
Holda (Alice Krige)
Krige gives a delicious performance, savoring dialogue that is intimidating and strangely a little seductive. The extensive makeup on Krige deserves praise, which is excellently done by makeup artist Liz Byrne. Sophia Lillis (as Gretel) and Krige’s scenes together are charged with tension. Perkins and Hayes make Gretel’s potential temptation the focal point of the film. Lillis dominates with her powerful screen presence, even though her accent goes in and out. Although still only in her teens, the talented young actress who has already proven herself in both Chapter 1 and 2 of “IT”, once again conveys a maturity and strength that seem to be beyond her years.
Perkins keeps the CGI to a minimum, using practical effects as much as possible, which are impressive. Including one particular set piece involving a bucket of guts, leaving the most lasting impression. He also includes numerous segments featuring voiceover narration by Gretel, which I felt was unnecessary but perhaps is understandable considering the attention spans of younger viewers, who may not appreciate long stretches of silence.
“Gretel and Hansel” jumps the hurdle of incorporating a hefty amount of depth to the story. Perkins and Hayes does this by integrating modern themes into the old-fashioned tale. Gretel’s temptation into evil, the deception of adults, or the films biggest idea, that every gift comes with a price. Perkins also spins an eerie chiller that digs deep into the psyches of troubled and tormented young women.
When the movie was released in January, the month has a bit of a reputation as a dumping ground for films, especially horror. “Gretel & Hansel” is that rare exception, armed with impressive performances, a thoroughly engaging script, truly magnificent and stunning visuals and a foreboding soundscape. No doubt we are grateful for such a beautiful, frightening, intelligent new venture into an age-old nightmare. I couldn’t help but feel this would have been the perfect vehicle for Guillermo Del Toro, but Oz Perkins gets a real shot here and succeeds in establishing himself as a vital horror auteur.
“Gretel and Hansel” is a macabre feast for the eyes. It’s an exquisite movie that manages to accomplish so much with very little, that Perkins has aimed straight for the dark heart of the legend, and it’s been brought with an impeccable and intoxicating craft. It’s got “cult movie” written all over it.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3 & 1/2 out of 5)