Review: 'Gretel & Hansel' is a Chilling Fairytale Packed with Witchcraft
by Zofia Wijaszka
January 30, 2020
When I ask around, nearly everybody knows the story of a brother and sister, who wander in the dim forest until they reach deliciously smelling house made of ginger cookies, candy, and other treats. A fairytale, as one should know, created mostly for kids to prevent them from talking and taking things from strangers – a moral teaching us a core value that we, from a very young age, can apply to daily life. Gretel & Hansel is a dark, eerie, bloodcurdling counterpart of the story we remember. A long time ago, in a land full of famine and despair, a young girl, Gretel, and her little brother Hansel, leave home, a place that they have always known. After a long and exhausting vagabond, they come across a house that's full of treats and warmth yet dark and mysterious at the same time. An elder woman who lives in the cottage allows them to stay and offers food & shelter. But, there is something wicked about the woman, and they will soon find out what it is.
The story that we were told in childhood is merely the background to the story depicted in the film. If you're looking for crumbs, the house made of candy, or a massive oven in which the evil witch cooks children - this is not the film for you. Instead, director Osgood Perkins, with screenwriter Rob Hayes, deliver a modern fairytale where the narrative has shifted. We previously heard the tale by a brother and a sister; now, we receive a story fully presented from Gretel's point of view. Hence, the visible variation within the title of the film. The picture is an original fairytale that's purposefully transformed into the coming-of-age, empowering plot. The witch's house is a rite of passage, an inescapable element on the path of growth – not for Hansel, but Gretel. With the help of folktale portrayed as a grim horror film and components of witchcraft, viewers have a chance to see the development of Gretel on her way into power throughout Gretel & Hansel.
Before discussing the cast and their portrayal of these legendary figures, it's worth diving deeper into the witchcraft presented in the film. There is just the right blend of satanic and pagan themes. The pentagram symbolizes the head of the goat and is usually known in satanism, although that depends on religion and the source. Other elements such as the book of herbs, wand, or a broom – those are all pagan attributes also used by Wiccans. Who is a witch in the film? It's hard to specify. One particular thing crucial to the plot – the witch shares feminists values. That, in turn, gives a possibly accidental reference to Lillith. In the past, especially in Catholicism and culture, the woman created as equal to Adam, awoke negative, fearful feelings. But, as the story says, Lillith wanted equality. For that, she was banished from Eden. In her place, God created Eva from the rib of Adam for her to be a servant. In Gretel & Hansel, the witch considers Hansel to be a burden that will make it difficult for Gretel to become a woman in her full capacity and potential. The witch's connection to Lillith may be accidental. Nonetheless, it's an exciting aspect adding depth to the plot.
When it comes to the film's cast, Sophia Lillis renders incredible emotions. She is a talented actress that superbly embodies the character of Gretel - multidimensional and well-crafted. Samuel Leakey, who plays the role of Hansel, follows in her shadow. The young actor was natural and comfortable as an adorable Hansel. One would not be able to tell that this was his feature film debut. Although this grim horror puts Gretel at the forefront, Alice Krige as a witch named Holda, also sets the bar extremely high. Delightfully charming yet uncomfortably mysterious in character, the actress provides a gratifying performance. From the facial expressions to the way she walks and talks, Krige does an extraordinary job.
Gretel & Hansel is a chilling, supernatural and empowering coming-of-age story set in the dreary folk world from Grimm's tale. The plot lacks the expected twists and turns, because in this story, the core is symbolism and growth. There are no jump scares, nor should there be. With elements of witchcraft, the film quickly becomes an elevated horror that should be an important new addition to modern pop culture and the genre.
Zofia's Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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