In a small desolate little room, Gretel (Sophia Lillis: It Chapter Two) makes a plea to her mother, begging to be allowed to stay in her home. Things have been hard since Gretel’s father died. Food is scarce, finances are desperate.
Gretel and her little brother Hansel (Samuel Leakey in his feature debut) are expelled from the house, forced into the woods. When they’re near starvation, they come upon a seemingly miraculous cabin stocked with delicious food. The woman who lives in the cabin welcomes them with open arms, content to stuff the starving children.
You may think you know how this story goes, but there’s an odd twist on this classic tale.
Director Osgood Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House), son of Norman Bates actor Anthony Perkins, puts a feminist twist on the well-known fairytale. Think of this movie like The Witch, if the director of that film was hallucinating.
It’s not a bad thing.
Gretel & Hansel is an interesting case of a film rising above obvious technical and practical constraints. The script is decent, but Perkins relies too heavily on voiceovers that are all pomp and no circumstance. There’s a lot of florid poetic language that doesn’t move the story along. And at a lean 87 minutes, we don’t need to waste time with extraneous voiceover. Leakey is also a bit of a liability. He’s cute as a button, but his characterization of Hansel is wooden. In spite of these issues, Perkins makes a pretty entertaining and beautiful little horror movie.
The movie’s artistic aspirations are also bigger than its budget. The film makes do with what it has, using smoke machines and stark lighting to cover up its low production values. The film uses simple iconography to make the story thick with metaphors. Witches framed in red light, sitting in natural or unnatural triangles—it’s a fantastic bit of storytelling, even with its rather meager resources.
Though the movie has some problems, the central performances from Lillis and Alice Krige (A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby) are brilliant. Lillis is fantastic as a tough-as-nails Gretel. She keeps her brother safe and knowledgeable in the ways of the world. When she’s offered power and unimaginable abilities, Gretel isn’t afraid…she just wants to know the catch.
As the witch, Krige gleefully swans about in a flowing cape, murmuring vaguely creepy lines as she pets Hansel or beguiles Gretel. It’s a great B-movie performance, full of gleeful menace and winking nods to the audience.
If you’re a fan of arresting cinematography, strong female protagonists, or revisionist fairytales, Gretel & Hansel is a great movie. Though the film has obvious flaws, it’s a tantalizing look at Perkins’ prospects as a director. I look forward to seeing what he can do if his budget matches his artistic vision.
Good Horror * PG-13 * 87 mins.
Birds of Prey
When Cass (Ella Jay Basco) is marked for death by powerful Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), everyone in Gotham is looking to cash in on her life. Cass runs into a ragtag group of women who are tired of letting men push them around. Cass comes under the protection of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
Can these women change the dynamics of Gotham City or are they too unstable to change the rules?
A female-led superhero movie is still rare, so it’s refreshing to see one with a predominantly female cast, a female writer and female team directing.
This is the movie that Suicide Squad should have been, filled with outlandish humor and gonzo action. If you love strong women and action-packed plots, this is the movie for you. The movie is R-rated, though, so please think twice before taking young ones to the movie—no matter how colorful and fun Harley Quinn looks in the previews.
Prospects: Bright * R * 109 mins.
If you’re a cinephile, Oscar season means lots of movies to watch. This weekend, Bow Tie Cinemas can help you with your Oscar pool. The theater chain is showing all of the Oscar-nominated shorts in each category. Moviegoers can choose one of three categories (Animation, Live Action, and Documentary) and screen all of the year’s nominated films.
This mini-movie marathon should be a great way to discover new filmmakers, see hidden cinematic gems, and pick your favorite before the winner is revealed on Oscar night (February 9).
Prospects: Bright * NR * Running times vary, total program running time 160 mins.