by Philip Price
Director: Osgood Perkins
Starring: Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey & Alice Krige
Runtime: 1 hour & 27 minutes
The breadcrumbs never led anywhere good. And in Osgood Perkins' beautifully haunting “Gretel & Hansel” - which the son of Anthony Perkins directed - there are no literal breadcrumbs, but only the seeming promise of certain death wherever the adolescent Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her even younger brother, Hansel (Samuel Leakey), choose to go.
At a slim 87 minutes, the story both hews very close to that classic Grimm fairy tale while also taking its own liberties in advancing Gretel forward in age and lending her the role of a potential apprentice to the witch she and her brother stumble upon in the woods rather than both of them serving as the next in a long line of delectable dining experiences for the fantastically wicked Alice Krige who plays said storied witch in this iteration.
This slightly altered narrative lends the film enough treats (figuratively speaking) to entice the audience in the plight of the children and the dilemma Lillis' Gretel ultimately must deal with, but the star of the show is Galo Olivares' cinematography as the film looks like what a Terrence Malick horror movie might look like if produced and/or distributed by A24. And I say "horror" with slight pause as there are certainly moments and imagery intended to elicit a scare, but this is more interested in the elaborate and ornamental gothic style that naturally elicits a creepy and uncomfortable tone more so than it does a straight-up scary one. And given the uneasy nature of the story and where all is inevitably heading, the cramped aspect ratio yet expansive lens Olivares uses allows for that visual prowess to not only be disturbingly pretty, but part of the storytelling; emphasizing the uneasiness the children begin to feel in that house in the woods where everything is too good to be true yet there's too much for it to mean nothing at all. Gretel & Hansel essentially feeding (again, figuratively speaking) the audience the idea that these children escape the terror with a lesson learned, but implying that to come of age surrounded by adults who care little for you and only how you might benefit them (as well as yes, trying to eat you or your sibling) would never leave one without scars that will eventually need to be tended to.