A long time ago in a distant fairy tale countryside, a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.
Gretel & Hansel is not for kids.
Now that’s clear. Good.
So, why would an older audience be interested in a fairy tale they’ve heard so many times before?
Probably because of everything that’s been added to it. Like gumdrop windows and licorice doors on a gingerbread house, the added ingredients take something stale and make it fresh. Whether or not someone should consume it is another question.
The film focuses on Gretel, her care for her brother, her strength, and her magical powers. The powers that are like those of the witch they meet. And it’s how each viewer engages with these themes of magic and self-focus that’ll impact the experience. When the magic in the film is considered in a literal sense, it’s the story of a young woman becoming a witch, potentially working with an evil entity and forces. When considered in a more symbolic sense, we have the story of a young woman choosing to focus on herself, and to use her power positively, with a hinted awareness of her potential for evil.
“I have my own power to nurture,” Gretel says, exemplifying the major theme of self-empowerment and focus. But she’s aware that her choices matter, later saying, “I could feed darkness, or give it plenty of light.”
Regarding the production and aesthetic of the film, the experience is both immediate and theatrical. It’s filled with engaging cinematography, vivid lighting, and anachronistic production design. The direction is stylishly stagey and intentional, letting the actors excel with the dialogue and drama. The voiceover gets close to being hokey, without totally diving in. The film may seem strange, yet makes sense on its own terms. It’s a fairy tale, but not for kids. It’s short, yet takes its time. It’s realistic, and artificial. It’s a story you know, yet starts with one of you probably don’t. Like many fairy tales, it’s familiar and fantastic.
It’s the witch that says of poison, “Nothing tastes as sweet.” And as wonderful as aspects of the film may be, viewers must be wise to avoid what may be toxic for them. There is much content, dark themes and visuals, unpleasant sexual conversation, dismembered kids, blood, and more. Gretel & Hansel is not Dove-approved.
The Dove Take:
Mature and surprising retelling of familiar fairy tale is dark, scary, imaginative, with much occult content.