Review: Gretel & Hansel

Director(s)Osgood Perkins
Principal CastSophia Lillis as Gretel
Alice Krige as Holda
Sam Leaky as Hansel
Release Date2020
Running Time 87 minutes

This was the horror movie I was most excited for in January. Perkins’s I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House and The Blackcoat’s Daughter are some of my favorite horror movies of the past decade, so I thought his rendition of a Grimm fairy tail would be absolutely mesmerizing. I just watched the movie a few hours ago and feel conflicted. It’s absolutely stunning to watch and has a fun synth-y score that really makes it pop. There are some creepy and unnerving visuals and some neat ideas. Unfortunately, it feels a bit too preachy and the third act feels way more rushed than I expected.

The story is a retelling of The Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel. However, the focus of the story is Gretel, as evidence by the inversion of the names. After being kicked out of their house, Gretel and Hansel are forced to find their way through the woods and find a way to survive the wilderness by themselves. On the way, they run into Holda, a nice lady who provides them food and board. Unbeknownst to them, Holda is a witch, and is responsible for some nefarious things happening in the background.

First thing’s first – the movie is gorgeous. The aspect ratio is 1.55:1 (smaller and more compact) instead of the status quo’s 2.39:1. Most of the shots are also symmetrical. This causes you to focus in on whatever is happening in the center of the frame. On top of this, there are moments where the edges of the frame are blurred out. This amplifies the presence of the subject, creating this visceral connection between the characters and audience. There are gorgeous color swatches, including some surprising neons that juxtapose well with the fable background. It all culminates in a beautiful looking movie you won’t be able to peel your eyes from.

The theme at the heart of the movie is control over feminine agency. Throughout the story, Gretel is constantly told how to act. Different paradigms of proper womanhood are explained to her with the expectation that she’ll make the “right” choice. Should she embrace her dark side and give in to here more hate filled impulses or should she be a proper girl who knows her place and when to talk? Each women she comes into contact with serves as a manifestation of each of these models of being and focusing on the difference in choices between all of them reveals some interesting undercurrents. At the core of agency is our motivations. We act because we have inclinations and intend to fulfill them. However, when obstacles come in the way we can falter. We can give in and let the obstacle prevent us from achieving our task. Likewise, we can try and overcome the obstacle in a multitude of ways, to achieve something. Our orientation towards those obstacles explains why we choose to act in the way we do, so if we can’t properly ascertain and control it, we can never truly do anything.

Unfortunately, neither of these ideas is developed as well as I would have liked. The threads of these ideas are only partially explored, but they never build up into something masterful. This is mostly due to the way the third act unfolds. It goes by really fast and feels like it would have benefited from more foreshadowing and buildup in the earlier acts. I might have also just missed clues (live I’ve done with Perkins’s previous movies), but I felt like some threads just felt haphazard.

Speaking of haphazard, what is up with the dialogue in this movie? Every character has a different sounding accent and vernacular to boot, so it’s hard to make out exactly when the story is taking place. Lillis comes off as incredibly soft and has the most modern sounding lines. She doesn’t really put an accent on what she says, so she comes off as anachronistic. On the other hand, Krige is old-timey and creepy as Holda and her lines have a sinister, sweet, and sickly undertone to them. Her dialogue matches and comes off dual-edged. It’s weird reconciling these moments. It’s not that anyone sounds bad. It’s just that it’s not stable across the board so the distinctions are even more prominent.

Report Card

TLDRGretel and Hansel is a beautiful looking, slow-burn telling of the Grimm Brother’s fairy tail. The changes feel fresh and I appreciate what the movie was trying to do. Unfortunately, weird characterization issues, strange dialogue choices, and on-the-nose thematic posturing stop this movie from feeling as elevated as Perkins’s previous movies.
Grade B

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

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