Look, there’s\re just not a lot of options for even bad movies that are at least somewhat interesting, and while the trailers for this film smacked of “wokeness”, The Boy and I both thought there was potential here. Which, ex-post-facto doesn’t matter much, since this movie doesn’t really realize much of it. Tonally, it’s a bit like The VVitch meets Mandy but it lacks the stark realism of the former and the surreality of the latter. And it’s yet another horror which didn’t seem particularly good in the atmosphere department.
In this version, big sister Gretel and her baby brother Hansel are thrown out of their house by crazy widowed mom, and wander around in the woods until they come to a…I dunno what it was, a manor house, maybe?…where they, for some reason figure they can crash, so they do, but they’re chased out by a zombie who’s murdered by a black dude with a super-crossbow who talks all Old Englishy and feeds them and tells them to go cross the forest to hang out with the lumberjacks.
Black Ranger is the second United Colors of Benetton moment in the movie, the first coming in the prologue, which itself is set up as a fairy tale where colonial-looking peasants, black and white, are living together as…well, I dunno, maybe it happened somewhere at some point in the 18th century.
It didn’t bug me much. It’s a little weird, but I’m willing to cut a fair amount of slack for something that isn’t meant to be real or realistic. There’s a later (repeated) incident that really jangles, though.
Anyway, the deal is they have to stay on the path, but they get hungry and stop to eat some hallucinogenic mushrooms. The film clocks in at around 80 minutes, not counting credits, so this is what’s known as “padding”. After the mushrooms comes finding the witch’s house.
The witch (Alice Krige!) invites them in to eat all the great food, for which there’s no non-spooky explanation, and the two kids settle in, with Hansel learning to lumberjack and Gretel learning witchcraft. The tension comes from Gretel’s awakening power, which coincides with her increasing awareness that being a witch is not an entirely savory (heh) matter.
At one point, we get a view of the witch’s previous child victims and this is the third UC of B moment: There’s an Asian kid, a couple of black kids, several brown-skinned kids who may have been some mix of Amerind, Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern…who knows. They all just happened to wander into the witch’s forest. I probably wouldn’t have cared but I (and I found out later, The Boy) was having a hard time caring about this. I was having trouble staying awake, even.
It didn’t grab us, is what I’m getting at.
There’s a good story to be had here: That of Gretel struggling with the decision to “sell her soul”, essentially, by sacrificing her little brother. The kid actors are good enough, but the director (and possibly the writer, though who knows how much of the screenplay made it on screen) seems to have one basic trick. Much like The Turning, you’re never really sure whether you’re seeing literal action in the real world or just a dream. Unlike The Turning, however, where this plays into the question of the governess’ sanity, here when it’s not literal, it’s premonitory or at least symbolic. In other words, it’s as good as real as far as real goes for this movie.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t make enough literal sense to be engaging, or enough poetic/aesthetic sense to compensate. Some good imagery, though again, we found ourselves underwhelmed by the atmosphere. Music seemed very ’80s, synth-heavy, which isn’t necessarily bad. This is just one of those movies where you can point to a variety of things, some good, some bad, some odd, but end up feeling like nothing quite gelled.