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With: Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey, Alice Krige, Charles Babalola, Jessica De Gouw, Beatrix Perkins
Written by: Rob Hayes
Directed by: Osgood Perkins
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images/thematic content, and brief drug material
Running Time: 87
Date: 01/31/2020

Gretel & Hansel (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Breaking Gingerbread

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This strange, austere, artful horror re-telling of the old fairy tale is one of those movies that's more moody than scary, and it won't be to every taste, but it's weirdly poetic and mesmerizing.

In Gretel & Hansel, it is a time of famine and hardship, and a widow, at her wits' end, throws her children out of the house to fend for themselves. Older sister Gretel (Sophia Lillis) takes charge of her younger brother Hansel (Samuel Leakey), but it's not long before they grow hungry. A hunter (Charles Babalola) helps them along.

Soon they find a house with an inviting feast laid out upon the table. An old woman (Alice Krige) invites the children in and allows them to stay, for a little while, in exchange for some chores. Gretel fears that something is wrong, but the old woman begins teaching her about how to unleash her inner, hidden strengths. Everything seems to be going fine, until Hansel disappears.

With Gretel & Hansel and two previous chillers (The Blackcoat's Daughter, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House), director Osgood "Oz" Perkins — the son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins — has established himself as a confident, patient creator of chills, but risk-taking and decidedly out of the mainstream. His focus on framing, textures, shapes, silences, and music, rather than jump-scares, shocks, or screaming, makes his films a little harder to sell.

His Gretel & Hansel, with Gretel now coming first in the title, is also a story about women. Triangles permeate the film, suggesting the strength of both the witch and Gretel, and Perkins plays around with other recurring themes and symbols as well. The overall tone can feel a bit academic and perhaps a bit chilly, too, but the casting saves the day. Lillis, who was so delightful and spunky in the two It films, warms up her scenes with her younger brother, and Krige (the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact) has a slithery quality that makes her witch somehow hypnotic.

The throwback electronic music score by the French composer Rob also helps create an unsettling, otherworldly quality. But overall, this is a movie about a young woman moving from a defensive position in the world, to a more powerful offensive one.

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