‘Gretel & Hansel’ Never Finds Its Way
Some Might Even Call It Bread-Crummy
Don’t let the name swap in the title and the flashy production design fool you. While Grimm’s fairy tales are fertile ground for contemporary horror reimaginings, Gretel & Hansel puts style ahead of substance.
The classic fairy tale needs no summary because it’s about 2,750 words and doesn’t dance around the point of its horror. But just in case: Because of famine, parents abandon a brother and sister get abandoned in the woods. The kids leave themselves a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way out of the woods, but birds eat the crumbs. A witch nearly eats them at a gingerbread and candy house she built. In the end, they trick the witch into getting into an oven and murder her so they can live happily ever after.
GRETEL & HANSEL ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Osgood Perkins
Written by: Rob Hayes
Starring: Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Samuel Leakey, Jessica De Gouw
Running time: 87 min
Director Osgood “I refuse to call him ‘Oz’” Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) and writer Rob Hayes only use the premise of hungry kids lost in the woods meeting a witch as a jumping-off point. Rather than relying on the visceral horror imagery of the original story, they attempt a more atmospheric story about a young woman navigating the evils of the world to find her own agency.
In this version, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is the older sibling looking for work to provide for her little brother after her mother basically kicks them out of the house. After turning down an offer to become a sex worker—gotta sex up those fairytales, I guess—she sets out to the woods with Hansel (Samuel Leakey) and discovers the witch’s house.
They spend an indeterminable amount of time living with the witch (Alice Krige) where it becomes obvious that something’s amiss with the magically appearing spread of food they have every night, despite no animals or supplies in sight. They spend so much time with this witch that she starts to indoctrinate Gretel into witchcraft by suggesting that the young woman has a power in her that the constant needs of her brother (or the needs of any man, for that matter) hinders.
It can’t be a coincidence that this plot’s trajectory follows very closely to that of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, as well as its aesthetic. Someone over at MGM totally sat down to watch it last year and was like, “Let’s call up the director of I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House for a gender-swapped Hansel and Gretel that looks like a meticulous period piece and pretends to have something to say about womanhood.”
Despite the solid source material and inspiration, it all just drags, but there are bright spots for sure. The casting of Lillis (It) as Gretel and Krige (Star Trek: First Contact and Silent Hill) as the witch is about as perfect as you can get, and their scenes together where they’re just talking are some of the best in the film.
In places, the visuals and atmosphere suggest horror mastery, but often its undermined by a sudden loud sound scene transition or pacing issues. This film has as its cinematographer a camera operator who worked on Roma, and the production designer comes from Hard Candy. That may be why Gretel & Hansel feels so frustrating.
Eye candy (and actual candy) notwithstanding, this adaptation is a bit unfocused and lacking in its message. It’s like wandering into a gingerbread house, fattenening up, and then realizing nobody even cares to eat you. This whole thing was just a timeshare presentation, and they just want to “awaken something in you.” No thanks, witch lady.