Rating: PG-13 / Running Time: 1 hour and 27 minutes
Hansel and Gretel, a brother and sister, have been kicked out of their childhood home due to the lack of food and resources available. On their trek to find a permanent place of residence, they start to feel the pangs of hunger and hope starts to feel like a figment of the past. Out of nowhere, they find a house rich with edible treats, beds to lay their weary heads, and protection from the dark forces looking for any easy morsel of blood. An old woman, the owner of the house, would love nothing more than to have a couple of extra hands to help with chopping wood and doing the chores necessary for the upkeep of her residence. Over time, the sister starts to receive visions and nightmares of something sinister that she can’t shake; she fears that she and her brother have stumbled onto an evil force. The old woman, as per legend, is a conductor of dark sorcery who has been luring kids in order to have them as a main dinner course. It becomes a matter of life and death for these two children to defeat this evil force once and for all in order to stop her reign of terror.
“Gretel & Hansel” has style eeking out of every bit of its frightful atmosphere based on the well-known Brothers Grimm folk tale. In the early days of 2020, this art-house horror flick sets itself apart from the pack with piercing cinematography and minimalist but magnificent set design. Cinematographer Galo Olivares uses natural light to expose the fantastic beauty of shrouded woods and the interiors of German-inspired architecture, as well as a stunning use of differential focus to place the emphasis on characters in accordance to the scary world they are traversing. When the film goes really dark, the staging of silhouettes in the frame of wide angles is a creepy sight to watch. The color palette is not wide-ranging, using only three main colors (blue, red, and brown) but it feels accurate and authentic to the period setting of medieval folk tales. Director Oz Perkins follows the journey of two starving kids who end up befalling to the dark sorcery of a witch with stylish use of handheld, medium close-ups and using a 1.55:1 aspect ratio to call back to some of the earlier days of historical horror cinema. “Gretel & Hansel” has the aesthetics of an A24 horror film with a strong emphasis of style over substance.
Unless you are a big fan of the original tale, this film is a hard sell, offering nothing new when it comes down to the mechanics of the story. Problems exist like snail-like pacing and hard to comprehend use of Medieval Germanic language. The horrific moments are not jump-out-of-the-seat worthy and the fear factor becomes lessened by the end. Even with some elements reworked and changed from the source material, the general progression is very easy to follow; at the end of the day, what good is a story if it doesn’t give any compelling or memorable pieces that will stick in the membrane? The literary experience is much more superior while the film could have found better footing as a TV series or a short film. Technical design is the only calling card this film can tout as a major strength.
“Gretel & Hansel” stands head over heels versus other horror films in the month of January, but that isn’t saying much. If you want to be wowed by great technical design, illustrious cinematography, a futuristic inspired score, and some stand out shots, this will fulfill your cinematic sensibilities. If story and pacing are what you cherish, then save your money and wait for the Redbox rental. Most viewers are ultimately much better off just reading the book.
Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.