Gretel & Hansel (2020) – movie review

Gretel & Hansel. Image credit: Courtesy of Zazoom Gretel & Hansel. Image credit: Courtesy of Zazoom

You can really tell Gretel & Hansel was one of the horror movies I was most looking forward to, as I included it in both my most anticipated horror films of 2019 (as this movie was initially supposed to come out last November) and 2020. Although a new version of the Hansel and Gretel tale isn’t something to be excited about per se, Gretel & Hansel is directed by Oz Perkins, whose previous two films – I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and The Blackcoat’s Daughter – I simply adore!

Since both those horror-dramas received critical acclaim, the son of Anthony Perkins managed to scrape together a bigger budget for Gretel & Hansel. However, in exchange he didn’t have creative control over the project, as the script for this film was written by Rob Hayes.

Continue reading and check my final grade below…


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My review is also available on IMDb – Gretel & Hansel (2020)

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Gretel & Hansel – same story, new approach

After their father’s death, teenage Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her younger brother Hansel (Sam Leakey) are struggling to get an income that can support their mother. After Gretel refuses a job in the house of a rich man who just wants to use her as a sex slave, the two siblings are kicked out of their house and wonder around the woods, hungry and desperate. Things look pretty dour: they are attacked by a ghoulish man, they can’t find food, they end up eating hallucinogenic mushrooms… Finally, they find a house that has a cake smell coming from it. Greeted by Holda (Alice Krige), the old woman living inside the house, Gretel and Hansel are invited to live there for a while. The old woman’s hospitality, though, hides something quite sinister.

Basically, Gretel & Hansel follows the main plot points of the German folklore tale “Hansel and Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm rather closely. However, this simplistic story is, here, steeped in a very art-house atmosphere and slow pacing typical of Perkins’ style. Even though this is exactly what I wanted in terms of visuals and tone, such style really doesn’t match with the bare-bones story and lack of depth in every department. Overall, just like The Other Lamb, in Gretel & Hansel barely anything happens and the viewing experience as a whole feels more like a chore than entertainment.

Awful script and annoying characters

Gretel & Hansel is the first script that Rob Hayes has written for a feature film. And it really shows. This has to be one of weakest and emptiest scripts written in recent years for a theatrical release: not only the story has no development nor progression, but it also lacks conflict and climactic points. This aspect could be overlooked if other elements of the writing were implemented, but both dialogue and characters feel extremely stiff and annoying.

Hansel, in particular, is nothing more than a plot device to move the story along. On top of that, the child actor’s performance is atrociously and unforgivably bad. On the contrary, both Sophie Lillis and Alice Krige do their best: it’s just a shame that the material they had to work with is really poor, therefore they also come off as unlikeable, underdeveloped pieces of wood.

Perkins’ directing: the saving grace of Gretel & Hansel

Despite being largely uninteresting and hard to sit through on a story level, Gretel & Hansel benefits from top-notch cinematography, amazing use of natural lighting, wonderful set design, great camera work and meticulous shot composition. In fact, taking into account the visuals onto themselves, Gretel & Hansel is the best-looking film I’ve seen so far in 2020. Unfortunately, all the fascinating movie choices made by director feel utterly pointless and wasteful, given what this film is as a whole. To borrow the words of Mark Kennedy, critic for The Associated Press, “Gretel & Hansel is as visually arresting as it is tedious, a 90-minute movie that really should have been a 3-minute music video for Marilyn Manson or Ozzy Osbourne”. Truer words have never been spoken.

In my opinion, the main issue with Oz Perkins’ unique vision as a filmmaker when it comes to this movie is that the style simply isn’t suited for such hollow story and characters. In fact, it makes the film feel pretentious and frustrating. In Pretty Thing and Blackcoat’s Daughter, Perkins’ excellent directing serves as perfect icing on the cake, with the metaphorical significance of those films (respectively, on grief and abandonment) taking central stage. In other words, despite the simplistic approach of Perkins’ previous work, both of those movies succeed in delivering important and unique messages through outstanding visuals. Gretel & Hansel, instead, has no message nor meaning, therefore its style feels more like an attempt to hide the fact that the movie has no point nor progression.

Conclusions

As I said at the beginning of this article, I was really looking forward to Gretel & Hansel as a big supporter of Oz Perkins’ work. However, aside from his meticulous style and immaculate visual veneer, this movie has nothing to offer.

Just like the recently-reviewed The Other Lamb, Gretel & Hansel is too artful in its presentation to appeal to the casual horror fan, but also too substance-less and surface-level for cinema lovers who seek a deeper experience when they watch movies.

Rating 4

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