Everyone knows the tale of Hansel and Gretel (hopefully), as it's one of the most frequently told tales out there and it's one of the rare fairy tales that didn't get the complete Disney treatment. The Brothers Grimm story remains practically the same. Gretel & Hansel attempts to replicate what audiences found so hypnotic about the work of Robert Eggers (The VVitch), and where this film strays into the general fairy tale we know, it became interesting. It's only when the film attempts to mix originality with the iconic tale that things become crooked.
By far the most flawed element of the feature, Oz Perkins’ direction, is a mixed bag of imitation, unique, and yet poor choices with gorgeous cinematography. Visually the film is stunning, and if you were to pause it at any given moment to take a screenshot, you'd get a gorgeous image back. However when it comes to the filmmakers persistent use of handheld shaky cam when a character is simply walking, the film becomes nauseating and distracting against the imagery that's been set up. Beyond those shots, Perkins has crafted an eerie atmosphere to immerse ourselves into for an hour and twenty-seven minutes, and a film that'll make you question if the tale you know is correct.
Gretel and Hansel are forced from their home and told to never return. Made to fight on their own devices, the duo start to starve until they happen upon an odd lodge in the middle of the woods. Within this lodge lies a buffet of all the most taunting of foods when one's hungry. So as a hungry child is prone to do, they decide to sneak inside and steal the food only to come upon worse circumstances than they had before. Not being an expert, beyond the basic knowledge of the Grimm tale, I'm unsure if Gretel was always the older of the two or if the film made it that way to build the slim plot it has. For those that will seek this film out no matter what, which I do recommend a viewing just for its unique retelling of this tale, I will go no further. Ultimately there are issues plagued throughout, and that's to do with the slight altering of the tale we learned at our youth, but those twists won't be revealed here; just know that I did not favor them. The worst of which is the tale within this tale that is brought to our attention plenty of times only to have one of the most lackluster and confusing payoffs for such a reinforced element of the plot.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
It's unfortunate that our lead Gretel couldn't be as great as the writing wanted her to be. Out of the three main performances, Sophia Lillis (It: Chapter One + Two) provided a stiff performance, newcomer Samuel Leakey gave a relatively flatlined approach to Hansel, but it's not so bad that it's inexcusable - there's promise in his performance. The best of the three is our "witch,” Holda, as played by Alice Krige, and at moments Jessica De Gouw, both of whom were great in portraying this manipulative woman. Krige, who took on the role a majority of the character's time on screen, is undeniably haunting in her portrayal - creating a genuine chill down the back of my spine every time she showed up unannounced.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Composer Robin Coudert has produced another nerve-racking score that is similar to his efforts in 2012's Maniac. While still producing a mass amount of scores for indie horror and action films, the composer has managed to enhance his craft over the years to create an eerie piece of music and make it work with the film in a way that makes a scene a hundred times more enjoyable to sit through. He's done it before with films like the horrendous Amityville: The Awakening, and here he hasn't done it to such a massive degree, but still his artistic, slow burn score magnifies the intense atmosphere that the director, set designer, costume designer, and visual effects artists have produced.
As mentioned during the direction portion of the review, Gretel and Hansel is a grim, yet vibrant film. Nearly every shot is frameable if you were to pause the moment. The visuals as far as CGI are minimal, and that certainly magnifies the effect the overall tone of the film has on the viewer. There's some in-depth mystery that happens to never be solved, for example an unexplained crevice in the Earth shown through the tale within the take that leads nowhere. The CGI used here is incredibly miniscule, and it's certainly not the effects artist’s fault for showing an overly insignificant piece of the story, in fact their minimal approach to the hole in the ground made it ever more enticing to find out what it all meant. The sets are wonderfully crafted from their initial home they are forced out of to the lodge they reside in till the end. When it comes to the sets, Gretel & Hansel is an impressive feat of horror and it's nearly impossible to watch this film and not be impressed by the simplistic yet appealing approach the production team has created within the film.
Gretel & Hansel is a short feature, capping out a few minutes before the 90 minute mark, yet with some of the twists and stiff performances, the film seems to take longer than listed. While the story couldn't save the experience entirely, the peculiar way of filmmaking that seems to imitate the style of Eggers, minus the black and white aesthetic, hinders the quality of the film; the standout performance of Krige and the unbelievable cinematography by Olivares saves Gretel & Hansel from absolute damnation.