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