A Grimmly Slow Road To Nowhere
Gretel & Hansel feels like the film equivalent of a pre-teen slapping on a fake beard and trying to get into a nightclub. It tries to be clever but in the end the very obvious facade is broken by a lack of oversight and thoughtfulness. What we’re left with then is a horror that combines some gorgeous cinematography and artistic scenes with a distinct lack of substance, with long, drawn out shots and an exhaustingly slow pace doing nothing to drive the film forward across its sluggish 90 minute run time.
Much like many of the original fairy tales, Gretel & Hansel is a grim take on a Grimm fable, with the familiar story of two very hungry kids wandering the unforgiving forest and stumbling upon a strange cottage inhabited by a creepy witch. With the promise of a never-ending all-you-can-eat buffet, Gretel soon learns there’s more than initially meets the eye as this nightmarish tale unfolds across a range of dreamy, nightmarish segments entombed around the main plot.
To be fair to Gretel & Hansel, there are some nice ideas here and the supernatural elements actually lend themselves to the fairy-tale format reasonably well. The original story is creepy enough to slot into the horror genre and the added setting of the isolated woods lends itself nicely to the visual design which certainly accentuates that feeling of isolation. Gretel & Hansel knows this too, and spends far too much time presenting its visuals with a self-aware swagger that does little to really back up its plot, which is both mundane and essentially an exhibition in patience. Do we really need a 30 second long-shot of Gretel slowly walking down the stairs or pushing leaves aside on the porch-way of the cottage? Probably not, but be prepared to sit through it anyway.
Don’t get me wrong , I’m a real sucker for artistic films and last year’s Paris Is Us was a title panned for its incredibly abstract and at times disjointed narrative, one I really enjoyed for its symbolism and ideas that worked in-sync with the story. Here though it feels like the visuals have been used as a mask to hide a story lacking in any sort of tension and excitement. The middle act in particular is really problematic for this, coming off the back of a strong opening and ending with a climax that never quite delivers as well as it perhaps should.
The characters themselves do okay with their material, with Alice Krige doing an excellent job portraying the twisted, creepy witch in the woods. However, Hansel is reduced to background noise for a lot of the film, instead leaning heavily on Gretel as the main protagonist. The story really misses a trick though, playing out as a coming-of-age eerie drama rather than a supernaturally tense title.
For a film so effective at building atmosphere, Gretel & Hansel is a surprisingly slow burn road to nowhere, with no pay-off to the build up aside from a couple of dreamy segments and light jump scares along the way. There’s nothing truly scary or frightening, nothing that thematically clever, and certainly nothing provocative enough to make sitting through the long cuts and artistic imagery worth repeating.
Gretel & Hansel is a misfire horror that tries to be art-house, swaggering confidently off the beaten track only to become hopelessly lost in the woods on the way. With no trail of bread to lead the story to a suitably frightening conclusion, this fairy tale fable ultimately leaves you hungry for more when the final credits roll.