Gretel and Hansel is a brand new take on the fairy tale, which forces viewers to get out of their comfort zone as it unravels itself to be something new and bold, rather than the same old rendition we have come to know. With haunting, moody, cinematography, the filmmakers draw us into a truly grim world where the warm colors are subdued and the colder tones take their toll as we follow a sister and brother into the forests of the unknown.
It takes a bit to really get to the good stuff as the film sets up Gretel and Hansel with more depth than is expected. Hell, this whole film has more than initially expected. From the camerawork and use of obscure angles, to the sharp production design and a score that aims to add boiling tension to the overall story like a blister waiting to burst. Combining all of those is a recipe of sweet, slow-burn, psychological horror.
The film works best when it leans into the psychological and surreal aspects of the narrative and uses the original story as a foundation to lean back on as a familiarity. Ozgood Perkins directs in a way which really draws us into the character rather than allowing them to be sent off and on their way as they have been presented in the past. While doing this, Perkins has a lot of fun setting up dream-like visions relating to Gretel having to come to terms of what it means to enter womanhood and to leave the past behind. It’s one of the best elements in this film piece because not only do the filmmakers make this more relevant and empowering for the younger audience (hence PG-13), but it allows Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige to play off of each other and showcase talent that is often overlooked within the genre. When Perkins leans into these trance-like sequences, it makes the story feel more inclusive as we are seeing a vast majority (if not all) from Gretel’s own perspective. In a way, it adds more magic and feels like a true Grimm’s tale.
The cinematography has style and helps emphasize the moments which are supposed to be terrifying and jarring. It’s always nice to hear teenagers sitting behind you whisper, “Oh, shit!” when a shot cuts to a stabilized close up. The filmmakers utilize a lot of blue and orange, and oftentimes the colder tones take precedence over the latter giving the audience more of a chilling experience rather than if it was warm and all fall colors. When the warmer tones are used, it’s not for comfort, it’s used to produce a plethora of haunting shadows in the depths of the small corners of the house, while also highlighting the sinister and terrified expressions of the characters – although the Witch’s home looks cozy as all hell, and that’s a huge on behalf of the production design.
This film feels like tension is only going to boil over. The music emboldens this idea as the story continues all the way to the end and the score’s pivotal moments don’t allow the movie to run away. It constrains it so we are to focus on the internal conflicts presented. At times the music compliments the depths we have to muster and put meaning to, or it compliments the isolation and paranoid feeling as if we are all being watched among the woods.
Although there are a lot of solid things going for the film, there’s a few decisions made which left me scratching my head. There are random jump scares which serve no purpose, the use of voice overs in spots where the film could have been allowed to breathe, and a rushed conclusion where more build up could have led to a rather satisfying, and even more bold, ending. That’s not to say the ending isn’t already bold as if, because it is, and it really does emphasize on themes which are present throughout. Personally, it would have been nice to see it drag on just a tad bit longer. Aside from that, this vision of a classic horror-tale is solid.
Will Gretel and Hansel be for everybody? No. Not everybody likes the art house horror style, and this is a nice addition to that specific sub-genre. However, I think it’s worth watching to see the performances, the cinematography, and the sequences of psychological terror, because those really help the film shine and makes up for what it lacks in some parts. For a January horror release… this is pretty badass.