By Pedro Schwarzenegger
The newest ongoing contributor to Movie Show Plus. Pedro Schwarzenegger is a true Northman. A savage man in a savage place and time. His taste in cinema? Savage. And yet he does all his writing on an iPhone, like some kind of candy-ass millennial. PedroSchwarzenegger@cinemabuse.com
CLICK HERE FOR PART I OF THIS TWO-PART ARTICLE
I was drawn to the story of Hansel & Gretel when I was younger, essentially because I was drawn to the more ominous corners of this world during my childhood. Stories of goblins and witches, and strangers yanking kids into vans. It was the 70’s, and the air was still quite dark, and thick with the pot smoke from the late 60’s, so cut me some slack. And yet there were few children’s stories as melancholy as Hansel & Gretel - even to me. (Little Orphant Annie - another family favorite) My biggest fear as a child was being kidnapped, or being fully abandoned by my parents - Hansel & Gretel featured both. The children may fool the witch who baited them with pies and gingerbread, and finally push her into the oven. But then what? Where to go? What to eat? And what other adult to trust in a fairy-tale so savage? This little boy and girl had to commit treachery, by employing a chicken bone, and murder just to spare themselves the oven - what could be next?
Enter Osgood Perkins’ Gretel & Hansel, a retelling of the classic Grimm’s Fairy-tale. Perkins comes from odd stock, his father, Anthony Perkins, was made famous by a single shower scene in 1960, playing a man-boy who moonlighted as his own pernicious mother. We can only imagine that a childhood being raised by Norman Bates himself, made an impact on Osgood’s artistic constitution. His few films, The Black Coat’s Daughter and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House are tone poems about youth and the supernatural. Gretel & Hansel falls perfectly in line with Oz Perkins’ cinematic mythos.
Two children, the tween years Gretel, (Sophia Lillis from It and It Chapter II) and her tiny brother Hansel, (newcomer Samuel Leakey) are tossed out of their mother’s hovel - under threat of axe-murder - and find themselves wandering through a forest filled with hungry ghouls and the phantoms from the stories they were told as children. (yes there are fairy-tales within fairy-tales) They find ostensibly safe harbor in the home of an old witch (Alice Krige - perfect casting this) who, though friendly, appears to have future plans involving the two. Her home is more occult icon than cottage. It’s peepholes bear the details of the All-Seeing Eye, it’s architecture is that of an Egyptian pyramid. The Star of David decorates her door. Pentangle stars - symbols of protection from evil - are scratched into the trees of the forest, but by whom? Is this to keep the witch in? Or to keep another evil out, altogether? The film leaves that up to our imagination.
Speaking of our imagination...
Gretel & Hansel is a creepy little flick - with an atmosphere as thick and noxious as wormwood silt in a bottle of strong absinthe. You wake from the movie with a slight hangover, feeling as if you just took a long, deep walk through the world of dreams, back toward a waking state where you simply cannot trust your memories of your time under Gretel & Hansel’s spell. This film is a deep, deep trip.
Children take psychedelic mushrooms. Witches teach chess theory. Adults fetishize youth - either lusting after it outright or licking their chops at the prospective nutrition it provides. Gretel & Hansel has that weird, otherworldly origin that Cronenberg first started expeditions into, and Panos Cosmatos and David Eggers explored even further in their work. It’s a film out of time and history. That far-out place in the inner-universe that’s prone to give adults bad dreams, and children waking nightmares. The kind that find them sleeping with their parents for reasons they will never be able to define. It’s a spooky experience. Never terrifying, but profoundly unsettling.
Every evening a grand banquet is set by a witch with pitch black, seemingly frost-bitten fingers. The food looks delightful in the candlelight, but it leaves Gretel and Hansel’s stomachs perpetually growling for more. There are doors buried in walls. Arcane symbols on the dining ware. The trees on the property carry a dark nature all their own. And nothing about the place feels like the truth. Of course this is that fairy-tale cottage, from that story, and yet it still feels altogether wrong to us. That’s the power of an artisan incurably possessed by his work.
They used to make dark, PG fantasy movies with teeth like Gretel & Hansel. Legend. Labyrinth. Something Wicked This Way Comes. This isn’t a film to take your children to. For one thing its underwater pacing and mood aren’t going to keep their attentions for long in this new generation of YouTube and TikTok. It’s a bit of a bore in sections. And what isn’t boring is strange and frightening. But for us older kids this is an experience like few others. Gretel & Hansel is modest and cryptic. I’d even call it a work of delicious, but impenetrably dark art. The kind that leaves your belly rumbling for more.
For the more adventurous among you, Gretel & Hansel is a definite recommend.
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes.
Starring: Alice Krige, Sophia Lillis, Jessica De Gouw.
Directed by Oz (Osgood) Perkins ("The Blackcoat's Daughter").
"Gretel & Hansel" is in theaters on Friday, January 31st, 2020.
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