Directed by Oz Perkins (Legally Blonde, Psycho II), Gretel and Hansel is a delightfully eerie retelling of an age-old tale. When title characters, the brother and sister duo, leave their home to escape a depressed, near-homicidal mother, the find themselves cold and hungry; lost in the woods.
After wandering through the maze of trees the find themselves in, they eventually happen on a cluster of mushrooms and gorge on them. As we all know, this is never a good idea when lost in the forest and the siblings begin to see strange visions and hear strange, disembodied voices whispering to them from the trees.
The film never discloses whether or not what is to follow is actually happening or is merely a result of their wild, nature-sourced meal. After a little hallucinogenic hilarity, the pair discover a hidden cabin, deep in the darkest depths of the woods and smelling cake, decide to investigate.
It will come as no surprise to you when I tell you this dubious dwelling is home to an evil witch (Alice Krige) with a penance for eating children. Contrary to the ancient fairy tale, where the house is made of gingerbread and everything is edible; the creepy cottage is just an ordinary – if somewhat rundown – home; it’s the occupant that is the cause for major concern.
The Grimm Situation of Gretel and Hansel
Just as in the fairy tale, our hapless heroes are treated to copious, spreading banquets and the kindly nature of Holda (the witch). She seems so harmless with her Irish burr and her ample ‘my dear’s’ and the children offer their services in return for board.
After growing suspicious of the abundance of food around, despite the secluded location of the house, Gretel talks to her brother who seems all too happy to stay regardless. As she starts to have terrifying nightmares every night, her suspicions grow as she becomes certain these nightmares serve as a warning.
Klige Portrays the Perfect Witch
There’s something about Kilge’s performance in Gretel and Hansel that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Her portrayal is perfect from beginning-to-end as she carries out her role with a certain knack of playing an evil character, pretending to be caring and loving; a difficult task, executed to perfection. Kilge adds the cherry on the cake with such aptitude that I can’t see anyone else in the same role.
A Modern Twist to a Timeless Tale
Throughout Gretel and Hansel, we often see things that are new to the original story. Looking back, this would have been essential in filling ninety-minutes with a few pages worth of fairytale. The additions bring a whole new light to the dark tale and make it work beyond the capabilities of the original short story.
While I’m not normally a fan of adaptions, I am happy with what has been done with the classic story I remember growing up with. The spoken narrative, for instance, is voiced by Gretel and explains certain elements to us without being too obvious in its intentions.
Gretel and Hansel exceeded my expectations and took me by surprise on quite a few occasions. The dark, other-worldly atmosphere that seeps throughout brings a macabre feel and absorbs the viewer until the final credits roll.
The small cast allows for a deeper focus on each individual character. With so much time in front of the camera, this could usually get a little boring. However, the characters are enchanting enough to make it work.
While slow at times, Gretel and Hansel keeps you drawn in with the use of compelling acting and the fairy-tale charm. The narrative by Gretel (Sophie Lillis) keeps the story flowing and Klige’s performances are nothing short of superb.
I’d definitely recommend this movie to anyone that’s a fan of adultized fairy-tale adaptions. The scenery, costumes and characters are full of the fairy-tale charm you would expect from a Brothers Grimm retelling, making it an ideal for fans of the genre. It would be OK for teens to watch but I would avoid showing it to young children as the witch scenes can be a little unsettling – in a beautiful way.