To say Gretel & Hansel surprised me would be the understatement of the year. I went into this film expecting next to nothing, and why would I? It’s a retelling of a well-known fairytale (because they usually end up great) that came out in January (typically, that’s where you put movies you don’t trust to do well because they aren’t great), and the response wasn’t all that great too (IMDb‘s score is 5.4, RottenTomatoes score is split, with critics rating it 62% but audiences only 23%). So with little to no expectations, I watched this film, and… actually, ended up liking it? As M. Night Shyamalan would say: “What a twist!”
Thinking back to my experience with this film, I believe there are three reasons I ended up enjoying myself more than I thought – the execution, Sophia Lillis and the runtime. Let’s start with the execution, and specifically, the cinematography. This film is visually stunning, and I need to give equal credits to both Oz Perkins (the director) and Galo Olivares, the director of cinematography. It seemed they had a clear vision of how this well-known story would be told using this modern approach. For example, even my untrained and “dumb” eye noticed how many shots were composed as triangles which is the main motive of this film. That is what made this movie visually stand out – it wasn’t “showy”, for the lack of a better word. This film is stunning, but it never felt “too pretty” or “too modern”. Both the direction and cinematography enhanced the story rather than trying to modernize it, and that was how I knew this movie was on the right path.
Now, let’s talk about Sophia Lillis. If this young actress won’t have a long and award-winning career, there is no justice in this world. Ever since I saw her in It (2017, my review here) and It: Chapter Two (2019, my review here), I knew she was an excellent actress and this movie confirmed that she could carry a film without hesitation. Her performance was so down-to-earth it captured me and didn’t let me go until the end. Like many great actors, she can express a lot by just using her eyes, and this film relies on her delivering the goods because there is a reason this film is named Gretel & Hansel. The classic fairytale we all know (and love?) has the kids be pretty much the same age, so we can sympathize with them and are more worried for them. This film, however, scrapped that and made Gretel the older sibling and made her the “leader” of sorts. Her younger brother relies on her throughout the film to keep him safe, and because of it, we, as the audience, need to see and understand that her character deserves this level of trust. And she does. It’s hard to pinpoint Sophia’s best scene or line as she’s consistently terrific leading her brother and this film throughout it all. I have to repeat myself; she better have a glorious career where many people would know her name because if they won’t, it would be a much sadder world to exist in.
The last reason I enjoyed this film was the runtime – it’s only 87 minutes. As don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t perfect. At times, even at 87 minutes, the film manages to drag on just a tiny bit. I don’t think it’s the film’s fault per se; it’s just the story itself. Yes, the filmmakers try their hardest to put a new spin on this story, and they do, but there is only so much that you can do with it. Also, if you expect a solid horror movie, you might be disappointed too, as this is more atmospheric drama and thriller now and then, but I don’t think this should be classified as horror. Sure, there are some gory scenes but not that many. Maybe that explains some of these low ratings; people went to see this film expecting a “pure” horror film and what they got was a thriller at best. For me, that isn’t a negative, but I could see how for some, it would be.
I guess what made the movie above average for me; was how everything I expected this film to be, wasn’t. I expected to get some subpar horror film spin on Hansel and Gretel, and I got a well-shot, told and acted movie that isn’t as horror-y as some might have hoped. We got a decent film that is aware of what it is, what it isn’t, and manages to avoid cliches. Casting Sophia Lillis also helped as she carried this film on her shoulders for its entirety. And the moment Gretel & Hansel starts to overstay its welcome, it finishes, not leaving you with enough time to get bored.
Overall, Gretel & Hansel was a delightful surprise. Sure, one could argue that’s the reason for my relatively high rating, but you know what? Screw it. In this day and age, we go to see movies, and even those who try the hardest will still have some preconceived notions about what they are about to see. Is it any wonder when a film subverts those expectations and delivers something else entirely; I would like it because of it? I don’t think so, as I am glad to be wrong and that we got a decent film that isn’t long, is shot beautifully and (hopefully) is just a starting point for one, by all accounts, extremely talented actress. If you are on the hunt for something you don’t see every day and don’t mind one or two gory scenes, try Gretel & Hansel.
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,