(Canada/US - 2020)
Directed by Osgood Perkins. Written by Rob Hayes. Cast: Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Samuel J. Leakey, Jessica De Gouw, Charles Babalola, Beatrix Perkins. (PG-13, 87 mins)
With a comfortable enough distance from the movie industry's inexplicable fixation on all things Hansel & Gretel back in 2013 (the big-budget bomb HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, the Asylum knockoff HANSEL & GRETEL, and the stoner-themed HANSEL & GRETEL GET BAKED), the Brothers Grimm fairy tale has returned to the big screen in GRETEL & HANSEL, a revisionist take from director Osgood Perkins. The son of PSYCHO star Anthony Perkins and photographer Berry Berenson, the LEGALLY BLONDE actor-turned-filmmaker specializes in the slowest of slow-burn horror, and over the course of his two previous films--the 2016 Netflix original I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE and 2017's THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER--he's carved his own niche in the genre, much like HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR director Ari Aster. But that comes with a caveat: the term "slow-burn" really doesn't appropriately convey just how glacially-paced an Osgood Perkins film can be. PRETTY THING's biggest coup was Perkins coaxing longtime family friend Paula Prentiss out of retirement, but the film is almost too slow for its own good, with shots so static and quiet that, at times, it comes off like a series of still-life portraits with intermittent narration. It's almost as slow and almost as quiet, but THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER, on the other hand, is a profoundly unnerving experience that, to quote myself, "will fuck you up for days after seeing it," and is one of the very few horror movies of recent years that I found legitimately scary and disturbing. But while PRETTY THING is technically Perkins' chronological "debut" as a director, BLACKCOAT was actually made first (under the title FEBRUARY), with A24 leaving it on the shelf for a couple of years while they figured out how to market it. Oddly, it's BLACKCOAT that plays more like the work of an assured filmmaker who's gained some confidence in what he's trying to accomplish, while PRETTY THING feels like more of a stunt that borders on the experimental.
gatekeepers" piece once again, because it still holds true), but those going into it possessing a familiarity with Perkins' work will find it to be ambitious, highly symbolic, metaphorically rich, and visually intoxicating. Working with cinematographer Galo Olivares (a camera operator on Alfonso Cuaron's ROMA) and production designer Jeremy Reed (a collaborator on I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE), Perkins creates a world of folk horror that's hypnotic on an almost Panos Cosmatos level throughout. The Kubrickian shot compositions in the rarely-utilized 1.55:1 aspect ratio (after a prologue in 2.35), the emphasis on triangular shapes, disorienting camera angles, eerie glimpses of robed figures in the fog, giallo-inspired colorgasms, recurring Perkins motifs like mirrors and insidiously subtle rumblings in the sound mix, and the synth-driven electronic score by "Rob" (French composer Robin Caudert, who worked on the MANIAC remake and REVENGE) that invokes the sounds of Goblin, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and Sinoia Caves, all combine to make GRETEL & HANSEL an often vividly surreal experience. Granted, it's one that will try the patience of viewers whose tastes lean more toward the mainstream but will certainly appeal to those who have logged significant time off the beaten path with eccentric genre outliers. And while it might not fall under the parameters of a modern-era "jump scare," Hilda's first appearance is a near pants-shitter.