Directed by: Oz Perkins
Written by: Rob Hayes
Starring: Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Jessica De Gouw & Samuel Leakey
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images/thematic content, and brief drug material)
Runtime: 1 hr. 27 min.
Release date: January 31, 2020
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Studio: Orion Pictures
People have been turning out films based on the Grim Fairy Tales for nearly as long as filmmaking has been a thing (such is the nature of public domain). Most are, at worst, utterly unwatchable. At best, they’re forgettable. With art house sensibilities and competent craftsmanship, Gretel & Hansel fares better than most of its ilk. Narratively, the film is as famished for sustenance as its titular protagonists.
As I’m sure you’ve surmised from the obvious name flip in the title, Gretel & Hansel shifts the focus of the story onto Gretel, the elder of the siblings in this interpretation. As originally told, the two set out to find their own way in the world after their mother falls on hard times. Now the siblings (played by Sophia Lillis and Samuel Leakey) must rely on the kindness of strangers and earth to survive. Imagine their elation then when brother and sister stumble upon a quaint, if oddly-shaped, house teeming with all manner of meats and treats in the middle of the vast and unforgiving wilderness.
The pair are greeted by an unassuming old lady (played by the Borg Queen herself, Alice Krige) who offers them room and board plus more food than they can eat (literally). Overjoyed, Gretel and Hansel offer to earn their keep. Grinning, their host eagerly accepts the offer.
Gretel & Hansel is what you might call a “slow burn.” It’s deliberately structured and paced in such a way to suggest that everything is building, albeit in no hurry, to a dramatic showdown between Hansel and Gretel and the devious spell caster who’s taken them in. The longer they spend in the old maid’s care, the more suspicious they become of her true intentions. Feeding these suspicious are horrifying visions that may serve as warnings from beyond the grave; or is Gretel’s imagination getting the better of her?
Since we’re already familiar with the folktale, we already know that the witch isn’t who she seems to be. We’re just waiting for brother and sister to figure it out. A large chunk of the second act I spent checking and re-checking the time on my phone, waiting for the film to play catch up. Once the revelation finally dawns on our heroes, an exhausted “finally” escaped my lips. The final final face-off proceeded to leave much to be desired.
As if the supposed “big moments” of the slow burn that is Gretel & Hansel weren’t enough of a letdown, too much of what occurs between those beats fails to significantly impact the larger story, if at all. I sat through this film expecting a number of earlier events or characters to make a return or at least be referenced later on. At the end credits, I was left scratching my head, wondering why director Osgood “Oz” Perkins’ (son of Psycho’s Anthony Perkins) had decided to include a number of scenes. It wasn’t until I checked the runtime of the actual feature that I came to understand the likely reason. The film, even with the addition of several seemingly unnecessary scenes, doesn’t even run 90 minutes. Clearly he and writer Rob Hayes struggled stretching out the Grim Fairy Tale, which can be told in a matter of minutes, into a feature-length film. It’s a shame too that you can tell.
For now, the original folktale remains the definitive version of this story.
Have you had a chance yet to check out Gretel & Hansel? If so, what did you think about the film? If not, is it even something you plan on getting around to? Jump down to the comments section below and let me know your thoughts!