With a children’s story displayed in widescreen quickly morphing into a 1.55:1 aspect ratio as the current story begins, there is no doubt that Oz Perkins intended Gretel & Hansel to feel like a fairy-tale— and a Grimm one at that. The film tells the story of Gretel (a magnetic Sophia Lillis) and her brother Hansel (a sweet Samuel Leakey) who are banished from their home by their mother, and venture into the woods in search of food and solace. They come across a huntsman, who tells the children not to stray off the main road (which they end up doing). In a predicted sequence, they end up at a witch’s house, and while she seems inviting at first, there is something sinister about her.
The film is peculiar from the start: Gretel and Hansel snort at each other like pigs, their mother claims their father’s ghost sits with them at their dining room table, and mirages of children plague the minds of the characters. The peculiarities feel exactly like something a child’s mind would conjure up while being told a bedtime story. There’s a particularly stunning shot— with a woman materialising from a pool of blood on the floor— that is so dizzying it’s hard not to think about even once the film is over. The dialogue in the film is also intriguing, as every character— especially the witch, speaks in riddles. They flow from the mouths of each character, each sentence meaning one thing while the actors’ faces convey another.
From the swapping of their names, it was evident that Gretel & Hansel would be Gretel’s story, but the films feminist themes are quite refreshing. Gretel is a young woman struggling to find her place in the world, all the while taking care of her little brother who follows her wherever she goes. The film showcases a young woman struggling with how the world sees her, and with how she wants to view herself. Gretel has never been allowed to think about what she wants, and the witch provides that opportunity for her. As time passes she becomes more enamoured by the witch and increasingly frustrated with Hansel. Whispers of a better life and dreams of a bigger purpose propel Gretel into becoming someone she didn’t know she could be; or perhaps someone who was subdued within her all along.
The film, at its core, is a story about power, and what that power can do if the one carrying it decides to utilise it for good or evil. Gretel struggles with her morality as she grows tired of how her life has unfolded, and can she really be to blame? Would she truly be wrong for deserting her brother and following a life filled with pleasure and power? The film asks the viewer to grapple with these questions, and ultimately ask ourselves: if we were gifted with an unimaginable power, would we feed it with darkness, or nurture it in light?
Gretel & Hansel deserved better than a limited January release date: it’s filled with stunning imagery, haunting sound design, and images so strange at times it feels as if you yourself are going mad. Galo Olivares’ cinematography is colourful and lush, with shots of the film so filled with depth it’s hard to dissect every detail. It’s truly a feast for the eyes. Along with Olivares’ gorgeous camerawork, is Robin Coudourt’s haunting score. The delicious synth’s are shake and wail, and are reminiscent of Ben Frost’s Dark score. It’s the perfect sound to tie this old tale to the modern audience.. With this stunning re-imagining, Oz Perkins continues to prove himself as an immersive director whose passion for the horror genre is undying.
Gretel & Hansel is now available on VOD
by Kaiya Shunyata
Kaiya Shunyata is a Film Studies student (and aspiring screenwriter/director) hailing from Ontario, Canada. She is passionate about the “monstrous feminine” trope, levitation in Horror, gold jewellery and synth music. Her favourite films include Annihilation, Prisoners, The Social Network and Blade Runner 2049.