'Gretel and Hansel': Great on the Surface but Lacks Depth
Any moviegoer probably knows January is the month where Hollywood dumps their worst films to make a quick buck. Before we get too down on January horror movies, though, it should be mentioned that some of them are fantastic if you’re looking for a “so bad its good” movie—‘The Bye Bye Man’, for example. ‘Gretel and Hansel’, however, is a rare early year horror film I actually had high expectations for. Director Oz Perkins has proven himself to be skilled with horror and the idea of a ‘Hansel and Gretel’ movie retelling the story in that genre is intriguing. Not to mention, the trailers looked awesome. On the other hand, this movie’s early year release and PG-13 rating are bad signs of studio meddling.
This movie ends up giving us pluses and minuses. Like I said, Perkins knows how to craft a horror scene and get under the audience’s skin. This movie’s rating does not hinder his ability at all. Visually, its a striking film that stays true to it’s fairytale roots instead of trying to be ultra-realistic. The set-pieces look like they’ve been taken right out of a kid’s book and decorated by satan, creating a perfect nightmarish fairytale atmosphere. Obviously, this style can be considered cartoonish. In some areas it works; in others it doesn’t. Alice Krige’s performance as the witch is a great example of where this style works. Its a caricature, but I mean that in the best way. Make no mistake about it, even though she’s as over the top as a witch in a little kid’s book, there’s nothing hokey about it. In fact, she succeeds in being pretty foreboding. Even though most people seem to think movies should focus on realism, some find their strength in being cartoonish and absurd. ‘Gretel and Hansel’, in many ways, is one of those movies.
Unfortunately, this movie is not without it’s flaws and some of them are pretty glaring. It definitely seems like producers altered some things. The biggest indication of this theory is the narration. This is one of those movies where narration pops back up every few minutes to tell us what a character is thinking or what the subtext of a scene is. Subtlety is good. It makes the audience think and can make scenes more powerful. Narration like what we see in this movie is just an annoyance and its hard to imagine Perkins deciding to put it in, especially considering how unabashedly mysterious his film ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ was. Speaking of annoying, the unnatural dialogue is one area where this cartoonish style stops working. Instead of talking like kids, Hansel and Gretel talk like actors performing in a stage play and its incredibly off-putting. Whether the writing or acting should be blamed for this is unclear, but it seems to be something the movie was consciously trying to do.
Overall, ‘Gretel and Hansel’ could have been much better than it was. Clocking in at under an hour and a half, it didn’t have time to explore the ins and outs of the story or to even create a compelling ending. Its just unfulfilling once the credits roll. Regardless, there are bright spots and its certainly a cut above your average January horror film. This movie will have it’s fans, though, and I can see a possibility for it becoming a cult movie. Cult films are usually idiosyncratic movies that just click with some viewers. Already, I’ve seen some critics praising this movie's style as genius. Its done pretty well in the box office, but it seems to be getting overshadowed by other movies, which means more people will discover it as time goes on. Anyway, this is a movie that will either click with you or it wont. You should at least go try it out and decide for yourself.