“Gretel & Hansel” stars Sophia Lillis, Sam Leakey, Charles Babalola, and Alice Krige. Released on January 31, 2020, the film has two children encountering a terrifying witch.
The film is directed by Oz Perkins, who also directed “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” and “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House”. It is based on the German folklore tale “Hansel and Gretel” by The Brothers Grimm. Remember when fairy tales like “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” wound up being cute and family-friendly thanks to the magic of Disney? Chances are you do, but I bet some of you didn’t remember that those tales have a dark side thanks to The Brothers Grimm. For those who needed a reminder, “Hansel and Gretel” is a fairy tale that was written by Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm in 1812, and it tells the story of two siblings who discover a house that’s made out of sweets and an evil witch who plots to eat them for dinner. Sounds like a great story to tell to the kids, am I right? The story has been adapted numerous times into several types of media like film and television, with the examples being the 2013 film “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Bewitched Bunny”. This latest version of the Brothers Grimm tale looks to be a bit more accurate to the source material in terms of its tone, but is it enough to make it more watchable compared to the last couple of horror films I witnessed? Let’s head on into the woods and find out.
The story follows the same narrative as the source material, in which a girl named Gretel (Lillis) and her younger brother Hansel (Leakey) journey through the woods to search for food and work. What they find instead is a witch (Krige) who has bigger plans for the children. One notable difference this adaptation made is that it places more focus on Gretel and her coming-of-age quest during their creepy experience, which would explain the decision to switch the names around in the title. Another difference is that they made Gretel a bit older than Hansel unlike the other adaptations, which had them in the same age as one another, so that her character can have that type of responsibility on her shoulders. The film mimics the cinematic style of the other “arthouse” horror films like Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” in terms of the cinematography, the production design, and the atmosphere. These qualities, along with some decent performances from the cast, work well in providing an eerie trip to the dark side of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. However, they’re the only things that managed to carry the film all the way to the end. As a film that’s made to provide atmospheric frights and creepy imagery, “Gretel & Hansel” is visually compelling. As a regular horror film, it can come off as a depressing and tedious bore for those who are into films that rely on shocking jump scares every five minutes. Once again, this is the same problem that has prevented these types of films from impressing everyone in the horror group. There are people during this generation that are so used to cheap jump scares and cliches in recent horror films that they often forget about the important thing that makes a scary film…well, scary, which is the combination of atmospheric horror, psychological elements, and real-life situations. “Gretel & Hansel” didn’t feel that much like a “psychological horror” film like “The Lighthouse”. It’s more along the lines of a bizarre and uneasy fairy-tale-like dream that came to life before your very eyes. It’s a disturbing and fascinating experience to witness, but compared to the other atmospheric and haunting films from the past, its impact wasn’t exactly on par with what I was expecting. Part of that is due to the film’s screenplay and its scares. I appreciate the fact that it combined the horror elements with a coming-of-age story centering on Gretel, who was nicely portrayed by “It” star Sophia Lillis. However, the script didn’t quite have enough food on its plate to satisfy my hunger. As for the scares in general, there were plenty of effective scenes that were pretty discomfiting, but they weren’t enough to affect my nerves in a terrifying way. Another flaw that could give certain people a hard time was its pacing. The film is at least 87 minutes long, but with the pacing being as slow as a slug, it can feel like it lasted more than an hour and a half. I actually didn’t mind the pacing because I was paying attention to the technical aspects and Oz Perkins’ style. For those who aren’t fond with slow-moving horror films that lacked jump scares, that’s another story.
Overall, “Gretel & Hansel” proved itself to be a tolerable creep-fest unlike the last few horror films that were released in January, but it somehow lacked a special feeling that made the other atmospheric horror films successful to me. For atmospheric horror fans, it’s a respectable adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that relies on the cast and the technical aspects to create an undeniable sense of dread and uncomfortableness. For people who prefer regular horror films with constant jump scares and CGI monsters, it’s a mild slow-burning piece of horror filmmaking that will test the audience’s patience due to its slow pacing and the lack of shocking scares. It will strongly depend on what you want out of a horror film like this. It’s visually appealing, but to me, there’s nothing special beyond that.