Gretel & Hansel is basically what you’d get if the Brothers Grimm were more interested in superheroes than in wolves doing grandma cosplay. Cloaked in all the kiddie cannibalism and witchy wickedness that you’d expect from the Gothic fairy tale, director Osgood Perkins’s take is visually spectacular, if a bit narratively superficial. Honestly, the biggest complaint is actually the rarest of compliments: It should be longer.
Perkins has created a gloriously weird world that evokes a combo of the scene in Willy Wonka’s tunnel and when Snow White ran through them spooky trees. That said, from the opening sequence, Gretel & Hansel feels like it was edited by someone who hates their job. The overly rushed introductory tale reveals a severely ill child who is saved by black magic and then abandoned in a forest. Because, you see, you do not want to play peekaboo with a child who is saved by black magic.
Instead of allowing us to savor the lush visuals and genuinely icky vibes, we are hurriedly rushed into the thick of things. To be clear, the thick of things is still great. But the presentation style is the difference between opening an intricately wrapped gift and having someone chuck a gift card at your head.
At any rate, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and Hansel (Samuel Leakey) are left with their cuckoo bonkers momma after their dad dies. Gretel tries to get a job, but her would-be employer graduated from the Weinstein School of Business. Hungry and scared, they bump into a friendly monster murderer who gives them very bad directions.
They wind up at the black, triangle-shaped house of an old lady (Alice Krige), who has endless food and permanently black fingers. The child-eating stuff that follows is expected, but the relationship between the witch and Gretel is not. The whole thing climaxes in a decadently demented set piece that doubles as the equivalent of a superhero donning a costume.
Without knowing for sure what happened behind the scenes, it sure feels like someone hired Oz Perkins and then didn’t actually want an Oz Perkins movie. His previous works, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, were wonderfully sparse and patient. They were allowed to breathe a raspy, immersive breath. Here, every few minutes feels like it just had 30 invisible seconds squeezed from it.
Still, other than two bad choices, the obnoxious exposition and harried pace, Gretel & Hansel is packed with a host of hella rad decisions. For example, Gretel has an American accent while everyone else doesn’t. Why? Why not! This is a fairy tale, and bad British accents are movie murderers. Then there’s the wholly unexplained zombie/vampire thing that pops up. Oh, and the film inverts the typical “ugly witch pretends to be beautiful” trope.
Basically, although the literal breadcrumbs associated with the original tale never show up, Perkins and company litter the ground with a series of delicious morsels to follow home. Easily the best 200-year-old adaptation filmed in ages, Gretel & Hansel is destined to be unfairly forgotten but should be shoved into your mind oven and consumed instead.
Grade = A-