While adaptations of classic fairy tales have been done thousands of times before and mostly instill cynicism, I actually welcome new adaptations. The reason why is that they’ve mostly been sanitized for children and these stories were made as cautionary tales with the intent of terrifying them. So, it seems like the horror route is the natural way to go when adapting these old stories. 
Gretel & Hansel (Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey) are a brother and sister cast out into the wilderness by their uncaring mother. Not sure what to do or where to go, they wander around the woods and seek shelter. They come upon a house owned by a seemingly kind, but clearly creepy old woman, Holda (Alice Kriege), who offers them hospitality. There’s something off about her, though, as she clearly seems to be have other, more sinister, plans for both of them. 
The whole moral of Hansel and Gretel is to not trust strangers. Don’t go into their home. Don’t eat their food. Basically, don’t trust them at all, because they may be a witch who wants to fatten you up and cook you alive. Pretty scary, right? Well, when it comes to a movie, you need more than just disturbing source material. You need suspense, atmosphere, mystery, and none of that is found anywhere here, which is surprising, considering this was directed by Oz Perkins. His debut film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, didn’t quite work for me on a narrative level, but it had some creepy visuals and an unsettling sense of dread and mystery. The storytelling was clunky, but I was still engaged because of the presentation. I’m not sure what happened, because everything great about The Blackcoat’s Daughter definitely doesn’t carry over to this film. He attempts to frame and light stuff in creepy ways, but the main problem is that it all looks so cheap. The production design is bland and the costumes feel like they were taken from a high school theater department. Half of the film is covered with an awful blue filter as a lot of it is shot in day for night. It was bland and ugly, and I feel bad for Perkins being roped into this terrible project. 
But what absolutely murders this movie with extreme prejudice is that it’s insanely boring. Without exaggeration, one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The first half hour is just Gretel and Hansel wandering around the woods and trying to survive. Then they arrive at the witch’s house and this where the pacing grinds to a halt and never recovers. It’s just scene after scene of them all sitting at a table while eating and talking. Gretel has nightmares, visions, and narrates everything that’s going on. Hansel stuffs his face and learns to chop down trees. It’s like this for the rest of the film, with no build up or escalation to any sort of resolution. We all know that it’ll end with the witch being killed by the siblings, so they try to make it more interesting with the witch grooming Gretel to be one too. I wasn’t really sure because I was just ready to take a nap. It’s odd that the plot is so simple and tedious, yet have the narrative still be convoluted. Seriously, this is a story about kids who find a candy house in the woods and almost get eaten by a witch. There’s not enough content for a feature film, so they have to expand on some things, but that’s the problem with adapting these simple, short stories: they were short for a reason. 
Sophia Lillis as Gretel is literally the only bright spot in this endurance test of a film. She definitely tries and gives it her all, but the script does her no favors, as she doesn’t really have a character to work with. The main story and theme are about Gretel maturing into a woman, but that’s really about it. They tie this into her becoming a witch too, but I didn’t really understand what it was all supposed to mean, all because it was needlessly complicated. The first five minutes are an exposition dump explaining the origin of the witch in the woods, which immediately lost me. No information is conveyed visually, all through repetitive exposition and narration. Alice Kriege is totally bland as the witch and never feels like a genuine threat. She’s just a creepy looking old lady and comes off as more comical than scary. Hansel, though… HANSEL… Sam Leakey makes his screen debut here as the titular brother and I pray this is the only thing he’ll ever be in because nobody, and I mean nobody, should have to suffer through this kid’s performances. When I heard the first word of dialogue out of his mouth, I needed this kid off screen as soon as possible. Not only is he so wooden that Pinnochio would have been a more suitable actor, but he can’t hold an accent to save his life. He’s British and has to do an American accent here, which constantly slips back and forth, making it sound like he has marbles in his mouth. Whenever he was off screen, it was a huge relief, because at least I was just bored, not bored and annoyed. I would rather have Jake Lloyd here. That’s how terrible this kid is. 
Dread is a key element to any great horror film and the only dread Gretel & Hansel has is that it’s dreadfully boring. People have criticized slow burn horror films like The VVitch: A New England Folktale because apparently “nothing happens”. Horror films like that may not be chockfull of jump scares and test your patience with the narrative, but they have an actual story with actual characters. That’s the stuff that happens. Gretel & Hansel doesn’t have that. There’s no story. No really characters. No style. No substance. Nothing happens besides pure boredom. 

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