There are certain movies in which you only need to watch one scene before immediately being able to picture the rest of the story in its entirety, complete with specific character arcs and narrative devices. This sense of predictability is something that writers can use as a tool against viewers, tricking them into believing the most obvious outcome before pulling the rug from under their feet and hitting them with the now-popular “defying expectations” maneuver. Unfortunately, there are also movies that maintain a sense of predictability all the way up until their final scene, in which you suddenly realize that there’s not going to be a twist at all and you’re confused why the movie was even made in the first place. The last movie to do this to me was “Summer of 84,” and while “Gretel and Hansel” isn’t nearly as stylistically bland as that film, it also doesn’t help that it’s equally predictable and boring in terms of the story.
Right from the start, Gretel and Hansel is told from the perspective of an old storybook, telling the tale of a “beautiful child” who fell ill as an infant but was healed by a mysterious enchantress, replacing the sickness with dark magic that left her hollow and unfeeling. The girl was eventually exiled into the woods by the villagers, where some say she continues to haunt the wilderness to this very day (ooooooooohhhh). Thrilling, I know. However, I was willing to accept this stereotypical storybook introduction if the rest of the movie had more interesting things going on within the meat of its actual plot. Unfortunately, it becomes quite clear early-on that voiceover exposition dumps from our main character are going to be one of the main driving forces behind pushing the story forward. It feels like a bad adaptation of a book that doesn’t exist, with so many scenes given narration for no real reason other than to maintain the weak façade of a classic “fairytale” setting when it’s completely unnecessary in the first place.
To summarize as briefly as I can, the story basically has absolutely nothing interesting going on whatsoever and is utterly predictable to the point of absolute boredom near the end of the movie. The only real change to the classic Hansel and Gretel narrative is the idea that Gretel was born with witch powers similar to the evil child from the introduction of the film and the old woman in the cabin who’s obviously the villain. However, the powers are used so briefly and with such little explanation that they feel almost unnecessary to even include in the first place. I suppose if you removed them, you’d literally be removing the only thing separating this movie from every single other retelling of Hansel and Gretel ever made. But after watching a young girl with short hair hold out her hand and focus really hard to telekinetically move objects while a loud (and completely unfitting) synth score plays in the background, I can’t help but get the feeling that this was made by someone who watched an episode of Stranger Things and decided “let’s just do that with our character.”
Despite all the bland, boring, predictable missteps of the script, the visuals and overall atmosphere of Gretel and Hansel are actually pretty admirable. While I haven’t seen his previous work, I know Oz Perkins has a reputation for atmospheric, slow-burn psychological horror, and while I can’t say a single scene in this movie actually scared me in any way, I can at least admire the interesting designs and environments that our two protagonists are constantly moving through. The underground lair of the witches was definitely one of the highlights, as it felt really alien and out of place with the rest of the setting (in a good way). However, I will say that the architecture of the witch’s actual house looks extremely modern, which was off-putting and initially made me believe that the film might take place in some kind of unknown nature park or reservation a la M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.” Of course, that turned out to just be a false feeling, as I said before, this movie has one of the most predictable stories I’ve ever watched. But at least it looked good while doing it.
Overall, Gretel and Hansel isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not a good movie either. In fact, it might just be one of the “moviest” movies I’ve ever seen. It’s safe, bland, predictable, and completely uninteresting in terms of its story. Sitting in front of me was a mother and her four-year-old child, neither of whom seemed particularly scared by the material on display. If anything, I think they found it a bit boring. I know I did. If it wasn’t for the great (if somewhat inconsistent in terms of accent) performances and interesting visuals, I probably would’ve fallen asleep near the end. I guess I just don’t know why we needed another retelling of the Hansel and Gretel storyline in the first place. I always figured the franchise peaked in its absurdity with “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” anyway.
5/10 – Average