This is a review of Hansel & Gretel (Henjel gwa Geuretel) – a Korean horror film loosely based on the fairy tale, which initially sounds like a great idea for a film (gingerbread cottages! Witches! Breadcrumbs!) but turns out to just be rubbish. There are so many things wrong with this film that I feel cruel even writing the review in the first place – it’s not that it is badly made and it actually has a lot of redeeming qualities: the acting is good and the sets, cinematography and atmosphere are all decent. But there are some huge problems starting with an obvious one: there is no ‘Gretel’ in this film. It could just be called Hansel but even that is stretching it. I figure if you fuck up the title of your film you are pretty much lowering expectations from the offset.
The film is about a dude (a constantly sad-faced fellow) who crashes his car and stumbles into an enchanted forest that he can’t get out of no matter how hard he tries – it goes on forever and the night comes unnaturally fast. Three kids that are sort of adorable, sort of creepy in that way that most children are but especially ones in Asian horror, live in a pretty house in the forest with their parents – who seem a bit traumatised. The kids eat sweets all day while the sad-faced dude keeps trying to leave but can’t. The kids don’t like that he keeps trying to leave. You know it’s just a matter of time before they do something freaky. The days tick by and the dude is getting more and more concerned. So far so good.
Unfortunately to really address what is wrong with the film I have to spoiler the hell out of it. So stop reading if you don’t want to know any spoilers. If you don’t want any spoilers just stop reading here and take my word for it: it’s rubbish.
What happens next is that the parents try to run away – they are trapped in the forest too, at the mercy of the creepy kids. Eventually it is revealed that the kids have magic ghost telepathy powers and their origin is explained: they were the victims of abuse in an orphanage and had a tragic childhood. One day they got these magical powers from Santa (yes really) and using these powers they created a new life in a forest where they would be children forever. They have been children since the sixties! Not so adorable now are they? Especially when they go into the room that makes them look their real age. Ewww, old people.
Here is where the film goes wrong. We are expected to have sympathy for the kids because of their terrible history as abused orphans. The film draws deeply from the endless well of Korean melodrama. Lots of crying and soft-focus close ups. Ridiculous amounts of crying and endless sad faces. The audience is supposed to be moved by their story, how they suffered abuse and how they just want nice parents in their dream house. At the end of the film we even get a tear-jerking image of the kids walking away into the real world like Bruce Banner in the end credits of the old Hulk TV show. But I just can’t believe anyone would fall for this.
Here is the problem: The kids are little monsters. Why the hell would anyone have sympathy for them? Yes, what happened to them was tragic but it doesn’t excuse what they then did. The film completely misjudges the emotional response of the audience here. For what feels like an hour we are supposed to feel sympathetic to their plight and sure they kill a the horrifically-overacting paedophile Deacon and more power to them – this falls under acceptable usage of magic Santa telepathy murder powers – but that doesn’t make up for the fact that earlier in the film they ATE the man they held prisoner as a surrogate father! They drove the poor mother mad and then turned her into a doll with porcelain skin and she fell to bits! They merged the thief woman with a tree so she looked like a tragic teleporter accident: her living, screaming face coming out it’s trunk! They are 50+ years old, living in the bodies of children and holding other adults hostage in a house in the woods before occasionally eating them. “We’re not bad children” they say, and everyone cries for hours. Yes you fucking are, you are little monsters – and you aren’t even children! You are evil little old people in children’s bodies. To hell with those kids. Also – although that might all sound quite interesting it is utterly ruined by the endless, endless weeping and crying. I suppose some people might forget what has happened so far or forgive the cannibalism and actually be moved by all this crying, but for me the sounds of a sobbing child are like nails on a blackboard.
So in conclusion, it’s a decent premise that goes horribly wrong when the film starts wallowing in the quagmire of melodrama and forgets that it has been a horror up to that point. It’s almost like two different films have been shunted together – one about poor little orphans and one about murderous shrivelled witches. It’s such a shame because the film does look good – I love the set design in the house, all the creepy rabbits especially – if only the story made sense and about 40 minutes worth of sobbing children had been cut out it might have been a good film.