“Careful with that, dear. I would hate for you to start something you can’t stop,” says Holda (Alice Krige) to Gretel (Sophia Lillis) as she lights a fire in the woods for warmth in the horror/thriller, Gretel & Hansel.
Inspired by the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the 2020 release follows a teenage Gretel as she leads her younger brother, Hansel (Sammy Leakey), through the dark woods in search of food and shelter after being driven out of their home. During their journey, they come upon a dark and foreboding house where an old woman named Holda lives.
Hansel sneaks into the house and is caught by Holda. She invites the siblings into her home to have dinner and stay the night. Starving and exhausted, they make the critical error of accepting the invitation.
The next morning Gretel and Hansel offer to do chores (cleaning, chopping wood, etc) to repay the old woman’s kindness. Holda accepts and suggests they stay awhile under such an arrangement. After a few days and nights, Gretel notices there aren’t any animals or fruit nearby yet the old woman constantly has enough meat, milk, and fruit every day for breakfast and dinner. Gretel begins to believe they’re in danger and that they should leave the house before some harm befalls them.
Dark and brooding, Gretel & Hansel takes the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale and makes it into a coming-of-age story focusing on Gretel, who in this version is much older than her brother and looks after him. Sophia Lillis (It) delivers a wide-eyed, stilted, and almost emotionless performance as Gretel, a big sister who cares about her younger sibling but also wishes she was free of him. Lillis displays the same expression on her face whether her character is curious, leery, or afraid.
Alice Krige delivers the best performance in the film as Holda, the witch who’s intrigued by the strong-willed Gretel and considers teaching her the art of dark magic while salivating over and fattening up her little brother. The best scenes in the film are with Krige.
The biggest problem with the film is the pacing. The backstory of the witch and the first 25 minutes of the film focusing on how Gretel and Hansel were kicked out into the woods and onto their journey are nothing short of tedious. The other big problem is the lack of emotion and terror. Neither Gretel and Hansel seem truly afraid – much less horrified – when they realize they’re in real danger.
The look of the film and its production design are visually haunting and the score adds what little tension and sense of dread exists in the film. Gretel & Hansel is stylish but fails to convey the horror of the situation or deliver any real frights or scares.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images/thematic content, and brief drug material
Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
Release Date: January 31, 2020
Directed By: Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House)
Studio: Orion Pictures