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GRETEL AND HANSEL

STUNNING VISUALS SET THE MOOD FOR A CREEPY FAIRY-TALE



★★★☆☆ (Good for One Viewing)

Director: Oz Perkins

2020


Oz Perkins has set himself apart from his contemporaries as the unsung master of unsettling visuals. He’s one of few directors who will get me into a theater no matter what (even in a pandemic) because I can always count on him to provide a feast for the eyes with his terrifying images and whispery cinematography. Audiences need to embrace Perkins—and like-minded director Robert Eggers—as a visionary offering horror films that behave like dramatic plays with bite. Like his other films, Gretel and Hansel is not for people who want loud noises or standard scares. The point of Oz Perkins’ movies are to give you goosebumps, and Gretel and Hansel has that in spades. Unfortunately, a painfully slow story structure hurts the film, especially at the end, but this methodical wait does manage to build some tension up to the moment where we watch a kindly old woman turn into a monster.



Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is a suspicious girl who refuses the advances of a wealthy sex predator offering her poor family food and protection. This is a cruel, Medieval world full of hungry people, so Gretel’s mentally ill mother doesn’t consider the girl’s refusal to be valiant, and promptly kicks her daughter and young son Hansel out of the house with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The desperate siblings come across a seemingly generous hunter who gives them a meal and instructions to a camp of foresters who will offer them a way to make a decent living, but life has taught Gretel that even kindness comes with a price, so she wonders what the man wants in return. The hunter’s generosity allows her to somewhat let her guard down, but it goes back up again when the siblings happen upon a strange house in the middle of the woods.


The timing is right because Gretel and her brother are starving to death and the lone inhabitant—a creepy old lady—is offering food. If the original “Little Red Riding Hood” was written to warn virtuous girls against walking in the woods alone, “Hansel and Gretel” was all about not taking gifts from strangers, and while Gretel knows this, she and her brother are in a bind. Of course, as we watch the witch sniff Hansel’s head and lick her chops, we have a good idea how this will all play out—but the boy’s safety is not guaranteed. Knowing what we know about Oz Perkins, the kid might not be long for this world.


Underneath the fairy tale, this is about what a woman must be willing to do to survive. In one of the first scenes, Gretel is expected by her mother to sleep with a man for food. When the subject of the witch’s marriage status comes up, she scoffs and says she sees no point in being subservient. Gretel is seduced by her host’s independent way of life, and you can see how witchcraft would have been so appealing because it’s offering something to women they never got back then: respect and autonomy. This is what lures Gretel in as she comes to see the old lady as something of a surrogate mother.


“GRETEL IS SEDUCED BY HER HOST’S INDEPENDENT WAY OF LIFE, AND YOU CAN SEE HOW WITCHCRAFT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO APPEALING BECAUSE IT’S OFFERING SOMETHING TO WOMEN THEY NEVER GOT BACK THEN: RESPECT AND AUTONOMY.”


Alice Krige is a revelation as the witch, selling us with every unsettling smirk. And Sophia Gillis plays Gretel with a steely resolve hinting at desperation; very few young actresses could have made our heroine feel more real. Speaking of feminism, I was happy the character of Gretel wasn’t sunk by this girl-power trope I see in so many modern horror films, usually written by men (or, ahem, 2019’s Black Christmas) as a way to use #metoo to get a project greenlit. But Oz Perkins and Gretel and Hansel screenwriter Rob Hayes flesh out our female characters with sincerity and realism. Gretel’s not a polyamorous genius with Instagram hair, who knows martial arts—there’s no ham-fisted “you go, girl” moment as she brings down the patriarchy. Gretel is a quiet teenager who can’t read but is quick enough to pick up the game of chess. Though she believes she has no talents, she’s proud of being street-smart, ready to run from smiling strangers at a moment’s notice. She’s a simple girl trying to find a safe home for the brother she loves, and that’s enough to get viewers to care about her. If you can’t appreciate the dazzling world Perkins has created, at least watch Gretel and Hansel to root for these kids to find a better life.





GENRES: Atmospheric, Feminist-Friendly


NO AI TRAINING: Without in any way limiting the author’s [and publisher’s] exclusive rights under copyright, any use of this publication to “train” generative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to generate text is expressly prohibited. The author reserves all rights to license uses of this work for generative AI training and development of machine learning language models.



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