Gretel & Hansel (2020)
Directed by: Osgood Perkins
Premise: A retelling of the classic fairytale. In the European countryside, a teenage girl (Sophia Lillis) and her much younger brother (Samuel Leakey) are kicked out of their house. While wandering through the woods, they are taken in by a mysterious old woman.
What Works: Gretel & Hansel is an overtly feminist retelling of the familiar fairytale and the filmmakers do a few interesting things with the material. In this version, Gretel takes the lead and she is significantly older than Hansel. The film opens with Gretel interviewing for a position with a local feudal lord. When he propositions her, Gretel refuses his advances and her mother, who is not quite right in the head, throws both of her children out of the house. The two of them eventually take shelter in the rural home of a mysterious woman who offers to make Gretel an apprentice. This is an interesting twist on the story and the filmmakers find ways to innovate the material while remaining germane to the traditional fairytale. Gretel & Hansel is beautifully executed. The film has striking production design and atmospheric cinematography.
What Doesn’t: Gretel & Hansel is poised to be a really frightening and even provocative spin on the classic fairytale and so it is disappointing that the film never really accomplishes that. Part of the problem is the characters. No one in it is interesting. The characters don’t have any depth nor do they want anything concrete. Hansel in particular has nothing to do. The story is dramatically flat. Once the title characters arrive at the witch’s house, not much happens. This part of the movie is mostly a series of dinner scenes with the witch feeding the children to fatten them up. The failure to create compelling characters or an interesting story fatally undermines the movie. The whole crux of this interpretation of the fairytale rests on whether or not Gretel will betray her brother and become the witch’s apprentice. It’s never convincing that Gretel is seriously considering the witch’s offer and so there’s nothing at stake and the film is never frightening or exciting. The feminist politics of Gretel & Hansel also lacks a punch. This film’s take on the material distinguishes this version from other adaptations but there isn’t really any point to it. The filmmakers set up a feminist angle on this story but they don’t use it to comment on the classic tale or misogyny or anything else. The lacking story, thin characters, and the ill-considered politics makes for a film that feels incomplete.
DVD extras: Storybook featurette.
Bottom Line: Gretel & Hansel has some great production values but there’s nothing more to it than that. The movie suffers from fundamental storytelling problems and it is not involving or frightening and its ideas are not carried out.
Episode: #802 (May 31, 2020)