“Fairy tales have a way of getting into your head.”
The classic fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” seems primed for a horror adaptation considering how dark the original story actually is. It is pretty crazy that it took until 2020 to finally get a full-blown horror adaptation of the story, but unfortunately, the film fails to create not only a scary film, but an interesting one.
The film carries a brisk 80-minute runtime but for the first 60 minutes, not much happens besides Hansel and Gretel wondering aimlessly around the woods in search of something to do — or something to eat, almost as much as I was sitting in the theater watching these two scavenge for a shred of entertainment. It’s like I was with them there in the woods as a character in the film equally hoping and praying for something of interest to happen so time could hurry up and easily pass by. I sat motionless, eyes glazed over staring emptily at the screen like I was in a sugar shock after entering a stranger’s house to find a litany of sweets waiting for me, hoping the film would lure me like a hungry witch into its world.
The film’s pacing and the beginning first hour of the runtime unfortunately bog down the film as a whole. As stated before, not much happens, so we’re left with a decidedly average story being told with no interesting new twists and turns to conjure up some much needed intrigue. When Gretel and Hansel finally discover the witch hiding in the woods, it picks up slightly more so than in the beginning, but not fully until the final 20 minutes. These lasting minutes bring out the fairy tale roots in full force, along with the horror roots that had been mostly missing from the earlier parts of the film. Then, in those minutes, the film wraps up in a traditionally cliche way, offering to end the film on an open note without leaving a lasting impact of terror nor intrigue. The extended sequence beforehand that manages to feel like an actual “Hansel and Gretel” story was one of the few moments in the film that kept my attention throughout. There are a number of other scenes with Alice Krige’s Holda, the witch in question, that are properly investing mainly due to Krige’s freaky, commanding performance.
Sophia Lillis portrays Gretel as a more mature, leading force this time around more so than her fairy tale counterpart, even if Lillis is tapping back into her performance as Beverly Marsh in the “IT” films to channel her character of Gretel. Lillis’ Gretel is reasonably different than Marsh, but her performance feels all too similar. Newcomer Samuel Leakey as Hansel is… rough to say the least. I assume it is always difficult to wrangle a good performance out of child actors, but he feels really misplaced here, especially up against Lillis’ Gretel. His weak performance is really due to the awkward dialogue present in the script, but his line delivery was more often cringey than effective. I don’t mean to harp on these young actors, but their line delivery feels really off with each passing line of dialogue, but that is mainly the script’s fault. It wants to utilize old English style dialogue, but it just does not really work effectively here.
I can confidently say that the film looks beautiful though. The cinematography and framing of each shot is really quite gorgeous. Even though the story is overall lacking in parts, the look of the film rises above some of its issues as a whole, but never quite hurdles over all of them. Along with some really creepy imagery as well, the production design of the witch’s house helps to make this world feel real when other aspects detract from doing that.
I expected more from “Gretel & Hansel” because a true horror adaptation of this story would have been a sweet treat, but instead this adaptation strays from the path and gets lost in the woods.
Featured Illustration: Kylie Phillips