January has more than earned its reputation as a dump month over the years so releasing a movie at the beginning of the year instantly confers a degree of skepticism. That is doubly true when that movie is a horror movie. This year has seen some January surprises like Bad Boys For Life, but the horror flicks have largely reinforced that January stereotype. The latest to try and buck the trend is this weekend’s Gretel & Hansel.
Gretel & Hansel from director Oz Perkins brings the classic Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel to the big screen in a new, PG-13 adaptation. Set in the countryside of an unknown place long ago, Gretel & Hansel tells the story of a brother and sister who go into the woods looking for food and work and find a delicious bounty. But they will learn that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So how does this new, cinematic twist stack up?
Watching it is a lot like the experience of being the titular heroine at the witch’s dinner table: there is what appears to be sumptuous feast presented, but the truth about what’s below the surface is deeply unfortunate… It becomes a horror movie without any actual horror, and a waste of all its potential.
Eric couldn’t knock Gretel & Hansel for its visuals. All you have to do is look at the trailer to see that this fairy tale looks as magical as that designation would suggest and that holds true for the film itself. But the problem is that there’s not much more too it than pretty pictures. And while a horror film doesn’t have to be rated R to be scary, Gretel & Hansel is PG-13 and it definitely isn’t.
Eric isn’t alone in the belief that Gretel & Hansel is a case of wasted potential. Variety’s Andrew Barker felt much the same in his review. He wrote:
The problem is that so many of its virtues feel compromised. At 87 minutes, it feels either too long or too short, returning to its more ominous imagery often enough that the impact starts to dull, but never properly digging into some of the richer veins it begins to tap.
It sounds like Gretel & Hansel might go to the well too many times with some tricks and that the film never truly engages with its deeper themes. But the main knock may be that what is ostensibly a horror movie may not really appeal to fans looking for one. The Los Angeles Times’ Kimber Myers said of the film:
Gretel & Hansel is quietly and perfectly eerie, moving with a languorous grace that might put horror fans of jump scares to sleep. Meanwhile, Hayes’ dialogue perhaps intends to sound like poetry written for children, but its simplicity and the actors’ delivery often make scenes fall flat.
Gretel & Hansel is not a long film in terms of runtime, but it might feel long, especially to those expecting the kind of pacing more associated with this genre. However, some critics found that there is a lot to like with Gretel & Hansel is you give it the chance. The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck said:
Gretel & Hansel may alienate some horror movie fans with its extremely leisurely pacing and emphasis on atmosphere and mood rather than visceral shocks. But while the film certainly demands patience, it provides ample rewards with its lush stylization.
It sounds like audiences that are open to a slow burn style of storytelling will be rewarded with Gretel & Hansel, but it will definitely not be for everyone. Nevertheless, Gretel & Hansel stands out as something that is actually different, at least according to Consequence of Sound’s Trace Thurman. Trace gave Gretel & Hansel a B and wrote:
Gretel & Hansel updates a classic fairy tale with impressive results. It’s a gorgeous and moody film that trusts the intelligence of its audience, a rare find for a studio release.
Lastly we have Den of Geek’s Natalie Zutter, who gave Gretel & Hansel 3 out of 5 stars and succinctly stated:
It’s all very pretty, but it could have tasted better.
All in all it sounds like there are things to like with Gretel & Hansel but perhaps not enough of them. This fairy tale adaptation makes for a sumptuously beautiful picture book, but perhaps lacks the story of a novel. If you’re a fan of beautiful imagery and don’t mind a slow film, you can probably get some enjoyment out of Gretel & Hansel.
As of now Gretel & Hansel sits at 64% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews. The main takeaway from the reviews so far though is that audiences going in expecting an edge of their seat horror film will be disappointed. I suspect a not so great CinemaScore on this one. So adjust expectations and make your theatrical choices accordingly.
Gretel & Hansel opens in theaters on January 31. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to keep track of all this year’s biggest movies.