We all know the story of Hansel and Gretel. A couple of kids are abandoned in the woods by their lousy parents. They find a house of candy and a witch who tries to fatten them up for eating, but they shove her into the stove. It really is a twisted concept that has been re-imagined multiple times on screen, the most recent being the not-so-well received Witch Hunter edition from 2013. But this is not that story. This film contains nuances of that story. Hansel and Gretel, the 2007 Korean film, uses the original fairytale as a skeleton on which to hang a new twisted storyline that mutates into a strangely provocative and brilliant story. And very few folks Stateside even know about this one, let alone have seen the film, making it a great entry for this week’s The Unseen.
Eunsu, a salesman, is very disconnected from his life. He is fairly estranged from his sick mom and is equally distant from his girlfriend who is four months pregnant. While driving down a deserted stretch of rural road, Eunso accidentally crashes his car over an embankment and becomes stranded in the dense, dark forest. A young girl appears out of nowhere and leads Eunso back to her family’s pristine cottage-like mansion deep in the woods. Though, at first, it seems like the Eunso has been rescued by the perfect parents and their perfect children, things soon start to be just a little too perfect.
Though Hansel and Gretel is South Korean and subtitled, this film has very few cultural barriers. It is so alluring on-screen that it rivals many other well-established international fairytale/horror pics like Pan’s Labyrinth or The Orphanage. Vivid colors paint every frame. Radiant production design fills every inch of scenery with a childlike innocence that becomes overwhelmingly creepy with every disturbingly fluffy bunny and cupcake. The cozy cottage, the pristine silent snow, the deep dark woods... this film manages to visually capture every setting of the fairytales we know with a distinctly joyful and simultaneously frightening flavor.
Though it is a fairytale concept, this film does develop into an all-out horror film. And don’t think the fairytale vein is the only bloodletting. Hansel and Gretel turns into a true hallucinatory psychological flick that is not for kids. It is also an emotional rollercoaster that will make you laugh, cry, and ultimately understand that all of us are monsters, and all monsters are made that way by other monsters.
Before viewing this film, I had never realized the sinister nature of children’s toys and even children’s manner of verbal phrasing. Hansel and Gretel plays up the macabre nature of the simplest items like stuffed animals, porcelain dolls, and childlike laughter. Santa’s eyes are just a little too blue for comfort. Big shady trees move a bit too unnaturally. The cupcakes look just a tad too shiny and perfect to actually be sweet. Mix this is with the Danny Elfman-like color and lighting choices, and the film becomes a giant visual contradiction pulling the viewer in deeper with every frame. Even the most innocent looking rabbit or angel holds a bitter vein of evil and discreet, and nothing is as it seems, not even our villains.
I stumbled upon Hansel and Gretel while combing the used horror bin at Amoeba (LA’s go to place for obscure flicks). Prior to that I had heard very little about it, which is a shame considering it’s cinematic worth. Having received major acclaim at many worldwide film fest, including a Best Picture nomination at Stiges, Hansel and Gretel received a rather quiet stateside release, and quickly fell off the radar. This is one gorgeous film that deserves a lot more love than it got. So be sure to pick up a copy of Hansel and Gretel, put the kids to bed early, and settle down for a horror-laden fairytale of your own!