Oz Perkins brings back to life the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel” with a modernized artistic approach where the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. “Gretel and Hansel” is a dark fantasy film that pulls its general plot from the classic fairy tale and it shows as writer, Rob Hayes does his best to reinvent the universe but ultimately pens a story that fails to impress. The entire cast and crew come together to craft one of the most visually stunning films of the year that will leave you marveling from frame to frame. “Gretel and Hansel” is truly a film of two tales; on one side we experience a story that broaches strong themes and establishes a fascinating world that is sadly never further expanded upon, while on the other hand, we watch in awe as the astonishing aesthetics of the film’s world wash over us like delicious eye candy.
Audiences may think they know the story of “Gretel and Hansel” because of their knowledge of the 1812 published fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel”; but they would be wrong (only partly). The story picks up by telling the tale of a young girl in a village that fell terribly sick, and with no other option, the girl’s father pleaded with an enchantress who saved the young girl’s life. However, there was a cost. The girl was cured, but she was cursed with the knowledge of knowing the future. The girl’s reciting of her own premonitions led to her being abandoned deep in the dark woods never to be seen again. Once the recounting of past events concludes, we are introduced to our titular title characters, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and Hansel (Samuel Leaky) while the two are meeting with an estate owner inquiring about a housekeeping job so that Gretel may financially support their mother and household. After the home owner’s intentions are realized, both Hansel and Gretel flee the house to relay the news to their mother. Unfortunately, their mother does not take kindly to the message and threatens to kill the children if they do not leave immediately. With those final words, Hansel and Gretel embark onward to find a suitable home to occupy. Along their journey, they encounter a handful of new characters and places until they reach the house that smells of cakes and sweets. The children are greeted by the witch Holda (Alice Krige) before being welcomed into her cozy home that is filled to the brim with delicious foods from all across the land. However, not all is as it seems within Holda’s isolated cabin as Gretel’s growing suspicions of distrust become confirmed with every passing day. It is here where “Gretel and Hansel” diverges from the original source material and sets itself apart by expanding upon and creating an entirely new world of fantasy and horror.
“Gretel and Hansel” was without a doubt my most anticipated film for the month of January, because I was completely sold on the creepy marketing that was released prior to the film’s opening. I am quite familiar with the original fairy tale and was excited to see a fresh original take on it. Tragically, I was disappointed. “Gretel and Hansel” writer Rob Hayes had the luxury of a starting point in the form of the original Brothers Grimm tale, and to his credit, he managed to take that and apply it to a brand new mythology. However, it is a true shame that the film is never given the proper amount of time to explore the darker depths of this fascinating mythos. The narrative differentiates itself from the original tale with a bevy of new concepts that dive deeper into Holda’s (the witch) lore in ways that have never been done before. Hayes also takes the time to further develop Hansel and Gretel by gifting them with distinct personality traits that separate the two and transform them into functioning characters that grow and change over the course of the film’s ninety-minute runtime. With all of that being said, Hayes does not earn the bulk of the blame as I believe two strict factors led to the film’s weak narrative. For starters, the film is rated PG-13 and given its subject matter along with the style and tone in which it is presented, the film should have been rated R. The creepy imagery sprinkled throughout and eerie design of the world would have been better realized had the film’s rating changed. The second factor that contributed to the film’s general disappointment was its lackluster runtime of only ninety minutes. Based on everything showcased within “Gretel and Hansel” it is clear that there are larger aspects of this world that were either forced to be shelved or were mentioned and discussed but only briefly. Hayes lays the foundation for a myriad of alluring ideas, it is too bad many of these concepts are hardly given the time to expand and grow.
“Gretel and Hansel” features a narrative that fails to impress; so much so that it was nearly wiped from my memory almost entirely. In spite of that major flaw, I believe the one thing that can be unanimously agreed upon is that “Gretel and Hansel” is a phenomenal film to look at. Christine McDonagh (Art director) and Jeremy Reed (Production designer) combine their efforts to create one of the most visually interesting environments ever seen. Every aspect of the film that is visually represented feels like the coherent vision of a singular individual. The characters and sets are all completely distinct from one another; whether that is the opulent appearance of an estate, or a dimly-lit house in the middle of the woods, to a witch in all black with a pointed cap, or a broad hunter draped in a cloak. The world presented in “Gretel and Hansel” is visually enticing where no two things look alike. Galo Olivares shines as the leading director of photography (whose previous works include 2018’s “Roma”) on the film as every frame is lit to perfection. The hues and tones that range from warm to cool may at times feel the same from moment to moment, but Olivares masterfully ensures that every frame is lit just enough so as to not highlight too much, maintaining the fear that we may never know what is lurking in the shadows. Leonie Prendergast serves as the film’s lead costumer designer and she does a fantastic job creating striking looks for many of the characters featured in the film. Each and every character is gifted with unique visual traits that make them stand out in memorable ways. On the whole, “Gretel and Hansel” is a film that features a specific visual flavor that is unparalleled by anything in theaters.
“Gretel and Hansel” is a mixed bag of film that leaves more positive impressions than negative. The film suffers from a less than stellar plot that finds itself more often than not slogging through moment to moment with extremely apparent pacing issues. Yet nevertheless, “Gretel and Hansel” heavily relies on the old adage of “show don’t tell” as it offers up an impressive world that will leave you yearning for more. With exceptional performances from the entire cast and solid direction by Oz Perkins, “Gretel and Hansel” is a treat for the eyes that could have been very special had a few minor alterations been made. A film worth the price of admission for the visuals alone.