Alongside American popular culture’s regression into a seemingly single-minded fixation on superhero storytelling and the live-actioning of animated features there’s been a third, darker strand of Hollywood’s grasping for familiarly branded content — the gritty glance-backs at a once grim (or perhaps Grimm) Fairy Tale Theater. Some of this overlaps nicely — if we thought in quadrants we’d mention quadrants here – with Disney’s reboots, as Alice and Snow White and Maleficent’s pretty victim Aurora don battle gear to fight the waves of CG trolls and such; the fables we got whispered to sleep with now turned into big clanging things.
Gretel & Hansel, from director Osgood “Son of Anthony” Perkins, fits in alongside those in its way, but it’s far smaller and stranger, more in league with 1997’s Snow White: A Tale of Terror starring Sigourney Weaver, or Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves with Angela Lansbury, or most especially A24’s recent art-house output — Perkins clearly loves him, as he well should, some Robert Eggers; you can see The VVitch all over this thing. The VVitch sought to up-end our sympathies on what draws a girl terrorized by patriarchal society into the sweet embrace of devilry, and there’s a lot of that here as we watch Gretel (Sophia Lillis, IT Chapter 1 and 2) slowly unearth an uneasy sisterhood (or perhaps a little more) from the gingerbread witch, here named Holda (and played to the fabulous hilt by Alice Krige, ever game).
The scenes between Gretel and Holda do thrum with a bizarre power — somewhat sexual, it must be said, as the two women moisten their fingers and wave a divining rod back and forth, trembling open-mouthed with its every subtle tremor — that sustains the film for a lot of its run time. Lillis and especially Krige make the most of the somewhat confused script, turning some nonsensical character beats into character quirks when needed.
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Gretel & Hansel creeps into your forest on January 31, 2020 from United Artists Releasing.
Jason knew the movies were his bag the second he saw that lawyer sitting on a toilet getting eaten by a Tyrannosaur, and he’s never looked back once since. Simultaneously a movie snob who watches Fassbinder for fun while also being a trash apologist prone to reenacting the death scenes in the Friday the 13th series through vivid pantomime, he’s got room for everything projected onto a big screen in his big roomy heart. He’s been covering the daily beat on his site My New Plaid Pants since 2005 and is a regular contributor to The Film Experience. He’s a member of GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and has been accredited to cover basically every New York City based film festival for the past ten years including NYFF and Tribeca. You can follow him on Twitter at @JAMNPP.