Jessica De Gouw
GRETEL & HANSEL
Based on the Grimm folk tale, Gretel & Hansel follows the titular kids as they are sent away by their troubled mother and are left to fend for themselves in the woods. On their way to a potential shelter, they encounter a house where an old woman treats them to endless feasts.
This being a horror movie take on the classic tale, you'd expect director Oz Perkins to turn an already pretty gruesome story into something even more unpleasant and that's exactly what he does here. After a bizarre prologue where a young girl, who was taken to an enchantress as a baby when she fell ill, is given a power that turns into a curse when she uses it to kill others, we finally meet Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her little brother Hansel (Sam Leakey) as they set off to meet a man who might give them a job. Unfortunately, the housekeeper position Gretel was hoping to fulfil turns out to be a lie with nefarious intent so they go home empty-handed to find their mother on the verge of sanity, threatening them to leave the house for good or else.
This leads Gretel and Hansel to wonder the woods in search of food and work. One bad night later, a helpful huntsman points them to a place where they would be fed and housed. On their way there, Gretel and Hansel find a peculiar house with a slide that smells like bacon and the rest is an even darker and, well, grimmer version of the original tale. 2015's The Vvitch explored similar territory by taking classic folk tales and giving them a realistic yet brutal makeover, thereby delivering a truly odd and unnerving experience. Where that film cleverly kept you in the dark the whole time about a key element, giving things a whodunit sort of vibe, Gretel & Hansel isn't quite that subtle and, although a lot of it works really well, none of it works quite as well as it did in The Vvitch, except perhaps the witch herself.
The ever-reliable Alice Krige is once again caked in makeup, made to look as otherworldly as possible and her witch, as a result, is quite a sight. Creepy doesn't even begin to cover that performance. This is one of the most unsettling witches in any movie and Krige does an amazing job at losing herself in such a vile character. Sophia Lillis once again proves herself to be a young actress to look out for as her Gretel is smart and strong yet innocent and scared, a sharp contrast to the very naive, younger Hansel who just goes with the flow. The film looks the part: gloomy as hell but beautifully haunting in its depiction of the woods and its dangers, with some excellent cinematography throughout and a witch's house worthy of Midsommar's yellow pyramid barn.
Unfortunately, Gretel & Hansel is never quite as scary or as impactful as it could have been. This is due to a distracting electronic soundtrack, some odd character design choices (the young version of the witch shops at Hot Topic, clearly) and magic being treated like a cool superpower instead of something alien and scary. Spoilers if you haven't seen it but having Gretel develop magic herself takes a lot away from the real threat of having two little kids take on a powerful witch, so the ending lacks punch because of that and feels anti-climactic.
It may not be quite as good as The Vvitch but Gretel & Hansel is still well worth seeing for the excellent performances by Lillis and Krige, for the moody visuals and the creepiness of it all.