Sophia Lillis is on her way to become this generation’s “scream queen,” and that is not without merit. When I first saw the teaser trailer for this film I was filled with glee. Another art house horror film like The VVitch? This was gonna be fun! I eagerly awaited the movie and was delighted at the really creepy prologue. The movie proper began and I was instantly reminded of The VVitch. As the movie kept going I just kept getting reminded of that movie, for better and for worse.
Commitment issues: Like The VVitch, this story takes place in the Middle Ages and tries to keep the language and the dialogue within that time frame. However, there are times when the choice of words is very clearly modern, which can take you out of the movie. At one point, a dish falls and breaks on the floor, and the witch literally says “another one bites the dust.” It’s a small quibble though, and I understand that they had to compromise to make this movie more accessible to people.
The prologue’s connection with the rest of the movie: I won’t get into spoilers here… Just a thought about the witch, and how the movie sets up her character. Her character arc takes a turn in the third act that never felt like it paid off. It left me wondering why the story chose to bring up certain aspects of the witch and her background, only to see those aspects go nowhere.
Too many nightmares – not enough development: During the second act of the movie, Gretel has two nightmares that play out in different scenes. Each nightmare last about five minutes. They are fairly terrifying, but I think one nightmare scene would have sufficed; the extra time could have been used to develop the witch’s background more instead of providing us with clumsy exposition near the end of the movie.
The ending: I honestly believe this was the studio’s fault. They tried to have their cake and eat it too. It felt as if they couldn’t decide on how the movie should end, and what message it would give, so they chose to go with both— happily scary ever after? I really wished they would’ve committed to one or the other.
Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige: Gretel and the witch made one of the best parts of this movie. Like I said in the introduction, Sophia Lillis is making her mark on the horror genre, and she’s excelling at it. But it was Alice Krige as the witch that carried the movie. She brings actual depth, and even sympathy, to a role that could’ve just been played as another monster role.
The visuals: Okay. This is where the movie really EXCELS. This isn’t an R-rated film, so it doesn’t rely on blood and gore. It makes incredible use of visual imagery. The movie is shot beautifully, and thankfully, not too dark. The character design is out of this world. They were able to make people and creatures terrifying without much frill. There is a lot of “Halloween costume” potential in the movie.
Fairy tale nods: There are a lot of little nods to other fairy tales cleverly hidden throughout the film—mushrooms from Alice in Wonderland, the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz, wolves from Little Red Riding Hood; maybe hints of a larger, shared universe, perhaps? It was fun to notice them.
There were a lot of good things about this film: the atmosphere and visuals were excellent, the two main leads were fantastic, most of the script was really interesting—but the final act felt rushed and poorly written. I wished there was just a little more effort put into the character development and screenplay. Ultimately, if you like arthouse horror movies, I would recommend you see this as a matinee, or wait until it is available streaming.
Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE