07th May2020

‘Gretel & Hansel’ Blu-ray Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Sammy Leakey, Charles Babalola, Jessica De Gouw, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Donncha Crowley, Charles Babalola | Written by Rob Hayes | Directed by Oz Perkins

The third feature from director Oz Perkins (February, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House), Gretel & Hansel is a stylish, female-centric reimagining of the classic Grimm fairytale. Creepy and atmospheric rather than opting for traditional scares, it’s unquestionably worth seeing for Perkins’ distinctive visuals.

Set in an indistinct but fairytale-esque time and place, the film stars Sophia Lillis (It, I Am Not Okay With This) as level-headed 16 year old Gretel and Sammy Leaky as her 8 year old brother Hansel, who’s cute but not too smart. When they’re cast out by their mother due to famine and poverty (“Dig yourself some pretty little graves” is her parting advice), they have a few minor adventures (including a magic mushroom trip and an unsavoury job offer) before winding up deep in the woods at the surprisingly modern-looking home of witch-like Holda (Alice Krige).

Lured in by the bounteous feast visible through Holda’s window, Gretel and Hansel decide to stay. Hansel is delighted, though Gretel retains some suspicions, not least because of the way Holda continually strokes her brother’s hair and gives him hungry looks. Then things get stranger, as Gretel has some intense dreams and begins to discover her own magical powers under Holda’s tutelage.

From the above description and the title reversal, it should be obvious that Gretel & Hansel is by no means a straight retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, although it does use a key element of the Grimm fairytale to delightful effect in one of its grislier moments. Instead, the film takes the story in an unexpected direction, becoming as much a fable about a young woman discovering her power and her place in the world as a cautionary tale about accepting sweets from strangers.

The plot itself may be relatively thin and the pacing is admittedly a little sluggish at times, but Perkins compensates with some astonishingly beautiful visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Galo Olivares. Combining stunning lighting and unusual angles, Olivares and Perkins create extraordinary image after extraordinary image, intensifying the film’s oppressive atmosphere. There’s also a dash of Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the film’s use of colour, something that’s further underlined by a haunting synth-heavy score from composer Robin Coudert that could reasonably be defined as Goblin-esque.

Sophia Lillis builds on her already impressive reputation with an assured performance that’s simultaneously vulnerable and burning with inner fire. The scene where she first tests out her new power is particuarly good, with Lillis combining child-like wonder and the knowledge that she’s on the brink of an important discovery with regard to her future. The supporting cast are equally good – Leaky provides a gentle source of humour in his largely oblivious role as Hansel (his enthusiasm for axe-related work is especially charming), while Krige adds interesting layers to what could easily have been a pantomime villain part and Jessica De Gouw contributes an arresting handful of scenes as young Holda.

Perkins packs the film with unsettling scenes and images, letting the film gradually soak its way into your psyche like a persistent nightmare. It might not be heavy on actual scares, but there are moments here that you’ll remember for a long time. Ultimately, it’s fair to accuse Gretel & Hansel of favouring style over substance, but it’s hard to complain when the style is this impressive and it certainly marks the film out from the usual bog-standard horror fare. At the very least it confirms Perkins as a horror talent to watch.

***½ 3.5/5

Gretel & Hansel is out on DVD and Blu-ray, in the US, now courtesy of Warner Bros.

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