Director Oswald Perkins
Screenplay Rob Hayes based on Hansel and Gretel by The Brothers Grimm
Starring Sophia Lillis, Sam Leakey, Charles Babalola, Jessica De Gouw, Alice Krige
I have had a fascination with Alice Krige since the first time I witnessed her, as the ill fated Eva in Ghost Story, released in 1981. Her countenance is at once haunted, beautiful and fearsome. She was perfectly cast as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact for these very same reasons. If I had been Data, humanity would have been doomed. When I saw her cast as the Holda, The Witch of Gretel and Hansel, I knew I had to watch. The film could have just been 90 minutes of her talking to kids before dinner and I would still be drawn into the fire.
There is a moment in the first act of the story when Gretel’s mother is informing her daughter that, because she refused the advances of her prospective employer, she is not going to be able to continue living in the family home. Neither would her brother. Father, the only source of income for the family, is dead. Gretel begins to discuss alternatives when all of the sudden an axe is slammed into the table by mother. Conversation over.
This alone would be a big enough scare for most people, to have a woman so past the point of no return she’s willing to kill her kids. Okay, if were starting here, before Krige has even graced the screen, this may be really good. The waiting is the hardest part.
Much of the film is spent in setting up the mood. The woods are spooky, and there are things out there that want to kill our title characters, played by Lillis and newcomer Sam Leakey. Perkins takes his time setting up the mood after the kids begin their journey. Once they meet Holda and partake of her feast, then the two head off for bed, that’s when it’s going to hit the fan…
The plot moves forward through a series of days and nights when both of the children set themselves to a volunteered series of chores to earn their keep. There are weird dreams. Strange occurrences. There is references to children that have been there before, and some hints that they may be trapped.
Recognition of the danger comes at differing paces for the siblings. Gretel is cautious at first, but is eventually won over. At this point, her brother’s senses are piqued. By this point, Gretel has been ensnared by the wisdom bestowed upon her by her new mentor. This leads her to an action which is seemingly fatal for her younger brother.
What happens from here is for the viewer to decide. The path chosen might be of interest to those who appreciate a film that constantly seems to be building. For me, the end result is hollow, as the choices made seem to be just that. There is nothing that happens that surprises or even feels the least bit uneasy. It’s just the transference of power from one to another.
Artistically, the feeling of the scenery is betrayed by the choices made in the script. We feel danger in the air, the imagery is waiting for substance to back up its promise. This substance never arrives. The dread / fascination with and of Krige feels more like a weekend spent with a widowed aunt who just can’t wait to tell you her recipe for fruitcake.
You can skip this movie and save yourself the time. Or you can turn off all the lights in the house, revel in the atmosphere until you realize you’re disappointed. Just don’t ask how the fruitcake is made. It’s not necessarily scary. You may not want to wait that long to find out.
(** out of *****)