Movie review: ‘Gretel & Hansel’ under-delivers, giving only breadcrumbs of classic horror tropes
(Courtesy of Patrick Redmond/Orion Pictures)
"Gretel & Hansel"
Directed by Oz Perkins
United Artists Releasing
Jan. 30, 2020 10:53 p.m.
Oz Perkins’ sinister twist on “Hansel and Gretel” leaves a lackluster impression on adult horror enthusiasts.
While Perkins’ rendition of the fable – cheekily titled “Gretel & Hansel” – aptly suits its intended PG-13 audience, more nuanced horror fans will find it difficult to fully immerse themselves in the sporadic plot. Hitting theaters Friday, the reinvented fairy tale thriller follows Gretel (Sophia Lillis), Hansel (Sammy Leakey) and Holda (Alice Krige), who meet by chance in the woods, bringing the enthralling classic storybook characters to life on screen. Despite incredible potential and talent on hand, the film’s ill-thought-out premise and abandonment of horror conventions left these elements underutilized.
After being ordered by their unstable mother to leave the household, Gretel and Hansel embark on a journey through the daunting wilderness to find a new home. The pair consistently recount their favorite folk tale of an exiled woman with supernatural powers who lurks in the forest, allowing the film to follow the traditional path of the original tale. The two stumble upon a seemingly trustworthy old woman who provides them with proper shelter and nourishment. This rendition comes with a gruesome paranormal twist.
Using darker lighting and diverse frame compositions, Perkins was able to create a sinister undertone with a lingering feeling of unsettlement. The grim, windowless shack in the woods contributes to a lot of the film’s tension, as the confined space gives an overarching feelings of entrapment and isolation. Combined, the eerie set and forest form a dystopian atmosphere for the film to take place.
Perkins was able to create a visually refreshing take on the cautionary tale, but many questionable character backstories and confusing plot twists result in the contemplation of the artistic intention of the film. While a good chunk of the film focuses on Gretel and Hansel’s relationship and tribulations, the last third features the introduction of an entirely different concept – Gretel’s discovery of her supernatural abilities. The reason why she developed these powers, and thus the relevance of this additional plotline, is left to be questioned.
After this switch in focus, the film was suddenly subject to a slower sense of pace, with the latter portion of the film lagging and lacking a clear sense of direction. In addition to the questionable plot holes and the lack of believable character buildup, the film’s unclear structure allows for a lot of dead space to question what could possibly come next, only to be momentarily distracted by a few frightening moments.
In terms of scares the film sought to impart, they were grossly underdelivered. While there were many unsettling foreshadowing moments of tension between Gretel, Hansel and the witch, Holda, these didn’t amount to much more than simple jump scares that frightened viewers for a mere couple of seconds. Not to mention the best of these were already revealed in the trailer. While there was immense buildup in many scenes with the contrastingly stern and sinister Holda and the innocent and benevolent Gretel and Hansel, there wasn’t a definitive memorable climactic moment that evoked any prolonged fear.
Newcomers to the horror genre might enjoy the eerie atmosphere and unique take on the folk tale. But seasoned horror buffs will likely cringe at the contrived plot and confusing narrative. Using various special effects and psychological terrors to try to create these moments of horror, the film tried to be too experimental and progressive and lost its meaning along the way.
With its eerily ambiguous ending, it was clear that the film lacked a well-thought-out plot that would have allowed for a terrifying, satisfactory climax. While it featured a talented cast, unfortunately the actors’ skill sets were undermined by the lack of adherence to the horror genre the film claims to be a part of.
In theory, this film has plenty of potential. But its unfinished skeleton structure detracted from the few potential moments of extreme horror that could have made it into a cult classic.
With its spastic plotlines and poor pacing, “Gretel & Hansel” leaves the viewer completely unsatisfied and longing for more.