REVIEW: GRETEL AND HANSEL (2020)

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GRETEL AND HANSEL (2020)

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Film starts off with a dark fairly tale within a dark fairy tale, as we are treated to the grim story of a little girl, rescued from death by an enchantress and thus imbued with dark and terrible powers. She is cast out by her mother after killing her own father and left to live in the woods alone. We then meet two children familiar with this tale, teen Gretel (Sophia Lillis from the recent IT films) and her younger brother Hansel (Sam Leakey) who are forced out into the wilderness when their widowed mother goes mad. Hungry and desperate, they come upon the house of an old woman (Alice Krige) filled with food and drink. The woman is a witch and the longer they stay with her, the more she tries to subvert Gretel to unleash her inner powers and fatten up Hansel for a far more sinister purpose.

Dark version of the classic fairly tale is directed by Osgood Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) from a spooky script by Rob Hayes based on the classic Brother’s Grimm tale. The film is loaded with thick atmosphere, from a man already becoming known for his atmospheric films, and every frame filled with gothic imagery conjured by Perkins and captured sumptuously by his cinematographer Galo Olivares. Let us also not forget an incredibly spooky and fitting electronic score by French musician and composer Robin Coudert, who simply goes by the name “Rob” (Revenge and the Maniac remake score). The film is moderately paced like Perkins’ previous films, but is chilling and effective from the first frame to the last. His imagery here surpasses anything he has done so far and the scenes with Alice Krige’s witch ooze with malice. This film proves without a doubt that a PG-13 rated film can be very creepy and effective, though this one does skate very close to crossing it’s rating’s borders. There is some feminist commentary, as Gretel is coming of age and her hostess tries to bring out her powers and hone her skills as a future witch, all the while getting her to cast aside her brother, who the witch has culinary plans for. It’s as much a horror as the story of a young girl becoming a woman and discovering her strengths and choosing who she is to become. On a technical side, Perkin’s makes great use of the Irish woodland locations and the sets and costumes are straight out of a child’s nightmare, fueled by a scary fairy tale such as the one this film is based. It can sit beside other dark fairy tales such as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Viy and Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil and Perkins continues to solidify his reputation as one of the newest and more unique voices in modern horror films.

The film has a small cast and all are fitting for their roles. Sophia Lillis is very good as Gretel. She is a girl coming of age and forced to be mother and guardian to her younger brother Hansel, with her father gone and her mother gone insane. The two are forced into the wilderness to find work, food and a home and once inside the witches cottage, Gretel becomes a girl being swayed to walk a dark path. Lillis portrays well the inner conflict, as well as, an intelligent young woman coming into her own and realizing her strengths. Gretel is opinionated and no fool. Alice Krige is absolutely chilling as the witch. She’s confident, powerful and yet wonderfully understated. She never goes over-the-top and avoids turning a character that drips with a smoldering malevolence into a clichéd, stereotypical movie witch. High marks for both actress and director for resisting the temptation to get too theatrical. Finally, young Sam Leakey is good as a young child being seduced with yummy food and a warm bed, though even the inquisitive Hansel comes to realize that there is something in this house he should be afraid of. Film also stars Charles Babalola as a huntsman and Jessica De Gouw as the witch in her younger form.

In conclusion, this is a very spooky and unsettlingly dark version of a classic fairy tale. Most such tales had subtle meanings and dark centers and here Perkins expertly brings them to the surface. It’s a bit more of an arthouse style horror and may not be for those who like their fright flicks more traditional, but the atmosphere Perkins creates and the visual storytelling make it very effective and worth watching. A chilling dark fairy tale from a director continuing to make his unique mark on modern horror cinema.

PERSONAL NOTE: I loved Rob’s score some much, I purchased it immediately upon returning home from seeing it.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) hairless cats.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: ERREMENTARI-THE BLACKSMITH AND THE DEVIL (2017)

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ERREMENTARI: THE BLACKSMITH AND THE DEVIL (2017)

Netflix original is based on a European fairy tale and finds a bitter and angry blacksmith (Kandido Uranga) holding a demon prisoner (Eneko Sagardoy). He blames the demonic creature for the bad things that have befallen him and torments it. When a young orphan (Uma Bracaglia) wanders into his smithy, things get a bit complicated for the three of them.

Film is directed well by Paul Urkijo Alijo from his script with Asier Guerricaechevarría based on this old folktale and takes place in the Basque Country of Spain. The visuals are quite sumptuous and the demonic make-up is exceptionally well-rendered. It’s a dark tale that includes a last act trip to Hell itself, but also has an old world charm to match it’s somber tone. There is some graphic violence, as it is a dark fairy tale after all, but a very well made one, with a good cast and would probably make a nice double feature with Pan’s Labyrinth or The Viy.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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Film by Orphanage director J. A. Bayona is the sad tale of Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with not only the terminal illness that is slowly taking his divorced mother (Felicity Jones) from him, but having to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has a tenuous relationship, as well. His father is now living in the U.S. with his new family and he has no one to turn to…until a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears and says he will tell Connor three stories, but only if the boy agrees to tell the fourth, which is to relate a reoccurring nightmare Connor is having. The boy reluctantly agrees, but soon finds these tales have more in common with his current situation than he could have imagined.

Flick is written by Patrick Ness based on his book that was inspired by writer Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the idea during her own illness, one she sadly did not live to write herself. It is excellently directed by Bayona, though is a very somber and sad story when all is said and done. The film certainly has a strong emotional core, as we watch a young boy trying to deal with the fact that his mother is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. Is the monster there as an imaginary way of sorting through his emotions, or an actual being only Connor can see, that is there to help the boy sort things out? Bayona and Ness aren’t eager top let us find out and the film does have a sort of magic because of it, despite the dour tone. Much like Orphanage J. A. Bayona gives this the feel of a sort of dark fairy tale and it boldly deals with the theme of a child facing the death of a loved one, without sugar coating it or giving it an unrealistic wrap up. That’s one of the things that also holds it back a bit, is that it is overall, a very sad film and contains some very serious subject matter despite having a young child as it’s central focus. On a production level, the FX are excellent, especially in the rendition of the tree-like monster, and the hand drawn illustrations that relate the creature’s tales are full of charm. The film has a wonderful visual style, that does not betray the serious tone, from the eye of it’s director. It also adds loads of atmosphere from Orphanage cinematographer Óscar Faura and an equally appropriate score from Orphanage composer Fernando Velázquez. A heartbreaking yet very well made film.

The cast also contributes much with exceptional performances all around. Young Lewis MacDougall is simply amazing with all the emotions he needs to convey as Connor. He presents a sweet natured young boy who must deal with a turmoil of feelings, including anger, with his mother slowly dying before his eyes and having to deal with both his stern grandmother and a bully at school, as well. The young actor is simply wonderful in a very emotionally heavy role. Felicity Jones will break your heart as the young mother trying to stay strong for her son. The actress gives a truly noble and endearing performance as a woman who will leave when she’s good and ready. Weaver is also very good as his grandmother. She’s is a tough women, but not a villain. Weaver let’s us see the pain she is in, watching her own child fading away and somehow having to deal with that and now raise her grandson. It’s a difficult place her character is in and while she may not handle every situation the right way, we do appreciate her position. Neeson, of course does top-notch work giving the monster both a nobility and a ferocity. He is a creature not without a bit of a heart, fierce as he can be. Neeson also appears in a photo as Connor’s grandfather who we assume is gone as well. Actor Tony Kebbell also has a minor role as Connor’s estranged dad.

In conclusion, this is a very well done and emotionally engaging movie. It is also, however, a very sad film and despite having a young boy as it’s focus, tackles that child facing some very adult decisions and emotions. The cast is exceptional and the film looks sumptuous and the movie works very well, despite it’s somber tone, thanks to a director who knows how to tell this kind of tale…with heart, albeit a broken one.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 books on which this film is based.

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