No Bread Crumbs

Directed by Osgood Perkins

Starring Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Sam Leakey

Rated PG-13

Released January 31st, 2020

We are all familiar with this story, but you may have noticed that in this version Gretel gets top billing. Director Oz Perkins and screenwriter Rob Hayes have made this Gretel’s story, as now she is the older sibling responsible for her younger brother Hansel. Sister and brother are cast out of their childhood home and cannot return, thanks in part to their mother’s mental health issues. What kind of future does a young girl like Gretel have in store for her? Hansel can’t understand why she declines a job working for a creepy old man, but we understand. 

And so they set out into the woods to find a new home, a new life. On their journey they meet a huntsman, who is kind to them and offers sage advice. Perhaps they will meet other friendly faces along their way. But the forest is no place for two young kids on their own, and before long they are lost in the woods, tired, scared, and hungry. Then they meet a witch. 

The witch is played by Alice Krige (and Jessica De Gouw in certain scenes). Krige is mesmerizing. Every line of her dialogue is delivered as if it has three meanings. It’s a commanding performance. You can’t take your eyes off of her for a second. Newcomer Sam Leakey plays Hansel as a plucky kiddo you can’t help but root for, while Sophia Lillis creates a Gretel who is coming into her own, unsure about what kind of person she’s going to be in a world she understands to be unfair and violent.

This is director Oz Perkins’ third feature film, after The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, to delve into the stories of young women who are figuring out their way in life. All three of his films are slow burn horror, all three are dark, moody tales worth watching. This is a story about how carving out your own path in life is a scary process. This is a story about finding the courage to let go of the things that may be holding you back. 

Cinematographer Galo Olivares composes a string of indelible images throughout the film. If there was ever a movie made for the One Perfect Shot Twitter account, this is it. Just look at that witch house, a striking triangle in the middle of the woods. Look at the orange sky brought to ground level contrasting with the silhouette of a lone figure in the forest. These are scenes ready made to echo in your dreams. Robin Caudert’s jagged, synthesizer-laden score is a perfect companion to the wild imagery of the film. 

Thankfully devoid of the jump scares so prevalent in modern horror, Gretel & Hansel offers an unsettling, eerie feeling to those who dare watch. The mood is so sincere that I could see some audiences laughing at it, but the ones who succumb to its Dario Argento vibe are in for a treat. I’d love to see a version without narration, which I believe would allow audiences an easier avenue to fully surrender to the film’s lush atmosphere.