Into the woods
Few scares in latest Brothers Grimm adaptation
In Gretel & Hansel, director Osgood Perkins appears to be shooting for the deliberately paced, lushly photographed Gothic horror style of director Robert Eggers’ The Witch, but winds up creating a low-rate version of that 2015 masterpiece. His film looks OK, but the script (by Rob Hayes) provides few chills. It’s all atmosphere with little substance.
The familiar story takes place centuries ago. On the verge of starvation, 16-year-old Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her 8-year-old brother, Hansel (Sammy Leakey), are kicked out of their home. They head into the forest, where the only source of food they find is hallucinogenic mushrooms (yes, they trip out), until they come upon a house inhabited by a strange old lady named Holda (Alice Krige).
Holda is all by herself without a market in sight, yet her table is full of freshly baked and roasted goodies. As the fairy tale goes, the hungry children settle in for some good country cooking. Little do they know, the obviously evil Holda (look at her, she’s definitely a witch) has nefarious plans that involve a different kind of meal.
As the kids mull about the house and stuff their faces, Gretel has “visions” that suggest she could have witchcraft in her blood. So, while Holda encourages Gretel’s budding witchiness, Hansel moves closer to the roasting oven. Will his sister get ahold of herself before Hansel gets dressed in parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? Trust me, you’ll be so bored you won’t care.
You also won’t be scared. There’s the potential for frights in a foreboding shot of a witch standing in a pink-tinged forest, and one involving entrails that transform into baked goods, but that’s it. The film mostly revolves around the kids talking to each other about scary things, and walking around the forest and Holda’s house where things should get scary but don’t.
Lillis also starred in It (which was a hard-R, and frightening), and she is good here, even though her role is almost a complete copy of Anya Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin in The Witch. Krige has the makings of an evil witch, but she’s required to do little more than sit at a table and speak ominously.
As for taking a classic fairy tale and turning it into something more dark and terrifying, that mission has failed. You would think that kids being roasted and eaten in an old lady’s oven would be fright city, but nope. This film is about as scary as a jar of pitted olives.
On the bright side, it’s much better than what will perhaps always stand as the worst adaptation of the story, the Jeremy Renner vehicle Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Gretel & Hansel is just boring bad, not bad to the core. Still, horror fans need not waste their time.