“Gretel and Hansel” Movie Review

Director Osgood Perkins is a master of atmospheric horror built around a compelling female protagonist. His 2015 film “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” utilizes the claustrophobic environment of a strict boarding school to explore abandonment through the eyes of a deeply disturbed woman. Similarly, his 2016 film “I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House” takes the typical haunted house setting and warps it, forcing the well-meaning protagonist to confront the truth of human mortality. Slow, patient and deeply disconcerting, Perkins masterfully weaponizes foreboding environments and intricately mysterious narratives to create authentic and unique horror experiences. 

Perkins’ most recent film, “Gretel and Hansel,” follows that same formula to create a beautiful, but overall mediocre movie. Set in a distant, fairy tale countryside ravaged by hunger and turmoil, the film’s environment is immediately cold, lonely and desolate. The color palette is a dismal hue of blacks and blues, accompanied by a minimalist soundtrack that emphasizes the unsettling reality of this faux-fairy tale world. Right away, we are introduced to the titular siblings Gretel and Hansel, who, like many in this grim setting, have come upon hardship: they have recently lost their father, and their mother has gone mad as a result. Outcast by their mother, Gretel, the elder sibling, must fight tooth and nail to provide for her much younger brother Hansel.  

Amidst their journey, the siblings eventually come across an old woman who can provide them with inordinate amounts of food, a roof over their heads and more. A decidedly feminist take on the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tale, “Gretel and Hansel” is a quietly thrilling coming-of-age story focused on Gretel as she uncovers the old woman’s secrets and comes into her own power. The characters in this film are carefully built and deeply intriguing: Hansel, a young, vulnerable and naive boy thrust into a cold and unfeeling world; Gretel, wise beyond her years and deeply burdened by adult responsibilities and the old woman, who, despite clearly being the film’s villain, is startlingly sympathetic and invested in Gretel’s potential. Set against the film’s tense and disconcerting environmental backdrop, these characters truly shine, propelling the otherwise underdeveloped narrative forward. 

That being said, the film does lose points for several technical and narrative flubs. As established, Perkins does a great job of creating environments and locations that fully immerse the viewer. Unfortunately, there were numerous instances within “Gretel and Hansel” that severely broke that immersion. For one, the film’s title card was very poorly designed. Set against a black woodland backdrop, the titlecard was simply generic sans serif red text, something you might see in Windows Movie Maker and not a full-fledged film. Another instance of immersion-breaking was when, during an extremely pivotal moment of the film, a woman appears. However, this woman’s hair is clearly dyed an unnatural black hue that doesn’t at all fit with the historical aesthetics of the film. In addition, the film’s immersion is broken due to its grotesque usage of CGI effects and the poorly-rendered CGI entirely ruins the mood of several different scenes. Furthermore, the narrative of the fairy tale is underdeveloped, to the point that there are several glaring plot holes that are impossible to ignore. 

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about “Gretel and Hansel,” however, is the fact that the creators clearly know what makes a good horror movie, yet they still went against that knowledge to create something painfully mediocre. I am a horror movie enthusiast, and I have always said that a horror movie must frighten the mind, the body and the heart. This film quietly and elegantly does all three: The haunting message of your unlocked potential unsettles the mind, the repulsive, gory scenes unsettle the body and the tense, complex relationships unsettle the heart. This film falls short of a higher rating only because, for whatever reason, it failed to correct its easily fixable flaws. 

Despite all this, however, “Gretel and Hansel” is a decently-made horror film with a powerful message for women, in particular: don’t let anyone—or anything—hold you back. Similar to Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” where the main female character comes into her own twisted power, Gretel’s journey towards putting herself first is a grim reminder that more often than not, we can become the very thing we fear the most.

A decidedly feminist take on the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tale, “Gretel and Hansel” is a quietly thrilling coming-of-age story focused on Gretel as she uncovers the old woman’s secrets and comes into her own power. Set in a distant, fairy tale countryside ravaged by hunger and turmoil, the film’s environment is immediately cold, lonely and desolate. The color palette is a dismal hue of blacks and blues, accompanied by a minimalist soundtrack that emphasizes the unsettling reality of this faux-fairy tale world. The characters in this film are carefully built and deeply intriguing. Set against the film’s tense and disconcerting environmental backdrop, these characters truly shine, propelling the otherwise underdeveloped narrative forward. 

That being said, the film does lose points for several technical and narrative flubs. I am a horror movie enthusiast, and I have always said that a horror movie must frighten the mind, the body, and the heart. This film quietly and elegantly does all three: the haunting message of your unlocked potential unsettles the mind; the repulsive, gory scenes unsettle the body; and the tense, complex relationships unsettle the heart. This film falls short of a higher rating only because, for whatever reason, it failed to correct its easily fixable flaws. 

Despite all this, however, “Gretel and Hansel” is a decently-made horror film with a powerful message for women, in particular: don’t let anyone—or anything—hold you back.