Robert Eggers is two films into his feature-directing career, and people are already trying to rip off his style.
Gretel and Hansel shoots for the slow-burn, deliberately paced, lushly photographed style that Eggers employed in his 2015 masterpiece The Witch. While director Osgood Perkins has put together a movie that looks OK, the script by Rob Hayes provides little to nothing in the way of chills—the movie is all atmospherics with little substance.
On the verge of starvation centuries ago, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is kicked out of her home with little brother Hansel (Sammy Leakey) in tow. They head into the forest where the only meal they have is hallucinogenic mushrooms—yes, they trip out—until they come upon a house inhabited by a strange old lady named Holda (Alice Krige).
Holda is all by herself without a supermarket in sight, yet her table is full of freshly baked and roasted goodies. Hansel and Gretel, just like in the fairy tale, settle in for some good country cooking. Little do they know that the obviously evil Holda (I mean, look at her—she’s definitely a witch) has nefarious plans for the two that involve a different kind of mealtime.
As the kids stuff their faces, Holda seems to ponder some sort of witch-training future for Gretel. Gretel has “visions” that suggest she could have witchcraft in her blood, so Holda encourages her while Hansel moves closer to the roasting oven. Will Gretel get hold of herself before Hansel achieves an uncomfortable melding with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? Trust me: You’ll be so bored that you won’t give two shits.
You won’t be scared, either. There are a couple of foreboding shots involving a witch standing in a pinkly lit forest, and one involving entrails changing into baked goods; these show potential. Otherwise, the film is mostly two kids talking to each other about scary things, and those same two kids walking around, during which things should get scary, but don’t.
In an effort to make more money, Orion Pictures and Osgood have gone with a PG-13 cut—which makes no sense. There’s nothing about this movie that would appeal to fans 13 and under. Lillis was one of the stars of It, which was a hard R. An R rating could’ve generated some creeps and scares—whereas this movie chickens out.
Lillis is good here, even though her role is almost a complete copy of the one played by Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. Krige has the makings of a scary witch, but she’s required to do little more than sit at a table and speak ominously.
You would think that an adaptation of a classic fairy tale about kids being roasted in an old lady’s oven and then eaten would be Fright City—but nope. This one is about as scary as a jar of pitted olives.
The film is flattering to Eggers in that it’s proof that he has already established a genre style—gothic horror filmed in greys and browns—and that people are trying to ape it like a lot of ’90s directors tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino.
On the bright side, the film is much better than the Jeremy Renner vehicle Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That film may always stand as the worst adaptation of the story. Gretel and Hansel is just boring, not bad to the core. Still, boring is bad—and horror fans need not waste their time.
Gretel and Hansel is playing at theaters across the valley.