Starring Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, and Sammy Leakey
Written by Rob Hayes
Directed by Osgood Perkins
Like an unsettling feeling of dread drifting through the air, Gretel & Hansel is able to do what very few films are able to: bury itself deep within your veins, right from the opening scene. There’s a sense of danger and loss found within the retelling of the classic dark fable Hansel & Gretel, a mood that sinks its beautifully haunting hooks into your skin even before the opening title credits are displayed.
The film, which follows the characters of Gretel (IT’s Sophia Lillis) and her little brother, Hansel (Sammy Leakey), wastes no time in setting up a tragic story of witchcraft being both embraced and condemned before jumping ahead to see our two leads being forced to go out on their own, when their financially (and mentally) damaged mother threatens to chop them into pieces if they don’t leave and find a better life. Desperate and searching for food, lodging and somewhere to go, the film allows its audience to go on the emotionally brutal journey with the siblings, with hunger and an eerie and sleepy-like forest ahead of them. There’s a pain when it comes to Gretel, feeling like she must not only be the sister, but also the maternal guardian to her brother and in a time when women were expected to shut up and keep their opinions to themselves, Gretel is a defiantly smart character that, as a viewer, you find yourself immediately rooting for. Within the first fifteen minutes, it’s obvious that Gretel & Hansel is a film about self-discovery and embracing your place in life, your path being one that you must find yourself and that journey that our two characters go on together is a dark, gorgeous one, thanks to director of photography, Galo Olivares (Roma) and composer Robin Coudert (ROB, who gave us one of the best modern-day horror soundtracks around with 2012’s Maniac), whose visuals and score work together in a way that pulls you into the dark fable, with such precision. Shot in a box ratio that allows the cinematography to feel like you’re experiencing a storybook playing out in front of you, there’s an elegance, albeit a dark one, to the way the film looks and sounds.
It’s easy to get lost in the first half of Gretel & Hansel, forgetting everything you know of the classic fable and when the duo arrives at the house of Holda, the mysterious woman (Alice Krige, Sleepwalkers, Ghost Story) wastes no time in letting both the film’s characters and its audience know that she is very much a witch and one with somewhat sinister agendas. The tension we’re given traces back to those quiet moments found in 2015’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter, where as a viewer, you find yourself expecting something to jump out at you, but instead are given somewhat of peacefully eerie vibe instead. Very much on board with Holda’s strangely never ending feasts and lodging, Hansel lives it up, enjoying his new found room and board, whereas Gretel has second thoughts about staying with the witch, and as the film progresses, we find ourselves seeing the two flipping their opinions and it becoming more of a film about a young woman deciding who she really is and where her loyalty lies.
The ambiance and mood that director Osgood Perkins displayed in both of his previous films (the previously mentioned A24 slow-burn gem The Blackcoat’s Daughter and the following year’s ghost story, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House) is amped up to masterpiece levels with Gretel & Hansel and Perkins really shows how in tune he is with giving his viewers films that don’t go for cheap tricks, but instead focus on setting forth a tone and eeriness that allows you to FEEL the movies he makes.
Existing like a perfect stew of ingredients including pitch-perfect direction, wonderfully acted performances by Lillis and Krige, some of the most haunting cinematography around and a soundtrack that should be on repeat for months after seeing the film, Gretel & Hansel is a triumphant work of sorceress-filled art and a film that will truly stand the test of time and become a staple in witch cinema.