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Movie Review: 'Gretel & Hansel' Rises Far Above Expectations


I only just discovered director Osgood Perkins last week, but I’ve now seen all three of his movies, and I’ve noticed a pattern—on paper, it doesn’t seem like any of them should work, but in practice, they really do.

His first, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, should have been a nonsensical mishmash of horror tropes — the slasher film, demon possession — and yet he figured out a way to make it genuinely frightening and narratively compelling. His second, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, shouldn’t have been much more than a by-the-numbers ghost story, but Perkins’ tightly controlled mood makes it far more.

And now: Gretel & Hansel, which you’d be forgiven for assuming was just one in a line of schlocky horror film versions of fairy tales. Apparently even the studio didn’t think was going to fly because it was dumped here in the February dead zone, which is a huge shame, because it deserves far better.

The movie is a bit of a retelling of the well-known story, and it is very much a fairy tale, but it’s one from the earlier, darker days of such stories, before they were sanitized and Disney-fied. Perkins’ story takes its own direction, becoming much more about the allure of power, and power for women, particularly. The movie’s tone is pitch perfect, all eerie atmosphere, and it’s a masterwork of art and set design—Perkins has clearly studied his German expressionists and Italian horror masters. He has a knack for knowing even the specific shapes and colors that will maximize creepiness, and he’s not afraid to try things, which I admire even when it doesn’t work.

Gretel & Hansel is exactly the kind of movie that will make someone looking for the usual splatterfest say, “that wasn’t scary,” but that completely misses what the film is going for. Perkins has created an experience that’s true to the dreadful spirit of those centuries-old stories while also being firmly rooted in contemporary power dynamics. And once again the director has created a fascinating film out of what ought to be easy to dismiss.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.