|'Gretel & Hansel': Grimm Doings|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
12:18PM / Friday, February 07, 2020
The only novel thing about director Oz Perkins' indulgent reimagining of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale is the reverse order of the title characters, which at best could be a token nod to the women's movement. More interesting as a study in how Perkins fails to breathe a new slant into the fable than it is entertaining, the few crumbs of variation are barely worth following.
Only film critics and moviegoers in whom hope springs eternal won't consider cutting their losses by exiting the theater as soon as it becomes obvious that "Gretel & Hansel" is a lost cause. However, it occurred while sticking it out to the closing credits that, despite possessing well executed but nonetheless sophomoric nuances that one could impress fellow film class students with, this "horror/fantasy" might interest psychologists studying the elements of boredom. While it is oft happily opined that time flies when you're having fun, a full viewing of "Gretel & Hansel" uncomfortably informs just how long its running time of one hour and 27
minutes can feel.
So, I have a suggestion, assuming an honest evaluation from the Justice Department (if that's possible) asserts that it is not cruel or unusual. The thought is that hypocritical senators and congresspeople might see the error of their lockstep, authoritarian-supporting cowardice if, as punishment for every untruth told, they were made to sit through films that, like "Gretel & Hansel," epitomize the actual gobbledygook they regularly spew in their treachery. It's a tad "Clockwork Orange"-like (1971), but then, efforts to derail their unpatriotic practices failing, it provides a preparatory view into the sort of world their shortsighted greed will facilitate.
Viewers unconcerned with civics or what type of country will be left to our grandchildren if the electorate isn't stirred to a renaissance of goodness and dignity, but who for some reason must stay seated until the lights go on, will have to think of some other interest to stave off the ennui.
That's boredom, Tish. Perhaps a mental replaying of a favorite sports event, the memory of a great quilting expedition, or recalling that time your finger painting received a gold star in kindergarten will help while away the time.
Expect no particularly creative story … just a lot of creepy atmosphere that challenges you to guess when this verboten traipse into the woods takes place. The appurtenances could represent any era from the Middle Ages to the 17th-century, and even beyond if you suspect the M. Knight Shyamalan treatment a la "The Village" (2004). From watching reality shows like "Pawn Stars" and "American Pickers," I thought for a second that a fleeting detail of the metalwork on a horse's bridle might reveal the age in question. But there was really no time or way to call in the required expert. Plus, it ultimately becomes apparent that both the screenplay and the milieu in
which it takes place are not meant to establish an exact time and place but rather, are essence of spooky fairy tale cliché.
In that directorial conceit it is successful. However, while both Sophia Lillis' Gretel and Samuel Leakey's Hansel certainly face their share of grave danger courtesy of Holda (Alice Krige), the witch personage for want of another description, the absence of even the slightest lip service to an oven scene struck me as bad form. Nope, this frightful lady, imprinted by a scarred past with sprinkles of the deleterious stuff that soured Dickens' Miss Havisham to the world, is working on a much higher and complexly obscure plane of evil.
For starters, she isn't interested in Hansel at all. But, suffice it to conjecture that if she is planning on eating the little chap, it won't be with knife and fork, but via some cosmic, symbolically ethereal flourish, or something like that. The backstory, full of omens, curses and assorted booga-booga, explains it at the outset. You see, the decrepit old gal has bigger fish to fry, so to speak. Continuing the Havisham allusion, she sees Gretel as her Estella, a prodigy to whom she will pass the witchcraft baton, and thus, in one fell swoop of supernatural prestidigitation, seal the now empowered young girl's destiny whilst vindicating her own miserably fated existence. Yeah, yeah, what else is new?
It is with sadness born of a slightly hoity-toity perspective that all you can think of in the final analysis is that there are people who will actually buy into this surrealism conjured for the Saturday night, cheese-and-nacho crowd, and glad for it. Otherwise, you're certain that every Harry, Dick and Tom deserves a better "Gretel & Hansel," no matter the order of their names.
"Gretel & Hansel," rated PG-13, is a United Artists release directed by Oz Perkins and stars Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige and Samuel Leakey. Running time: 87 minutes