Ever watched a movie that shook you to your very core? An unsettling, terrifying cinematic experience that lingers with you long after you leave the theater? Personally, I’m always seeking them—the ones that sink their teeth deep into my cerebellum and force me to react. 2019 provided an evocative experience, in the form of Ari Aster’s compelling ode to the unnerving, “Midsommar.” Last week I was in search of something disturbing, only to discover true terror was waiting for me in the safety of my own home. Well, at least one was…
“Gretel & Hansel” is a slow, brooding, creepy tale that does a great job of being atmospheric and setting a tone, but often is slower than the line at the DMV after a breach in the spacetime continuum. Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her brother Hansel (Samuel Leakey) live in olden times where life is just dreadful and everything is covered in a layer of wet brown that may or may not be more than mud. To compound the circumstances, their insane mother tells them to leave because she is no longer capable of caring for them. It’s some cold shit. Most terrible parents have the decency to just go out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back.
Our hapless heroes venture into the woods and endure a few trials and tribulations before stumbling upon the house of Holda (Alice Krige), an eccentric old woman who offers them food and shelter. It’s a scenario so rife with potential peril that even 8-year-old Hansel is like, “This is way too good to be true.” Still, with precious few options, they stick around to see how living with this weird old woman will work out.
Spoiler alert: Not well.
Gretel has to come to terms with her burgeoning supernatural self, while Hansel has to avoid becoming a tasty snack. While director Oz Perkins creates a very believable and spooky world for the characters to inhabit, the pacing is molasses slow. The eventual payoff is rewarding but will try the patience of anyone with a less-than-average attention span. “Gretel & Hansel” is an occasionally effective, beautifully filmed creeper.
What I found more chilling this week was the new Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” about pop icon Taylor Swift. I’m a huge fan of documentary filmmaking; I love “peak-behind-the-curtain” stories that give a glimpse into the lives of megastars. Sometimes they end up being heartbreaking and jaw-dropping, like the Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse doc “Amy.” Most of the time, we end up with a sub-par puff piece like “Gaga: Five Foot Two.”
“Miss Americana” started out like a hilarious puff piece from an artist who has spent her career in a perpetual emotional snit. Director Lana Wilson struggles to create a three-dimensional portrait of Swift, but ends up revealing an epic narcissist obsessed with the world’s opinion. I suppose there is some value in revealing to the world that fame and fortune do not always lead to fulfillment. Unfortunately, it’s a rather simple message: “The grass isn’t always greener” gets delivered through a painstaking crawl over a half-acre of broken glass, as we watch the porcelain princess talk about her feelings for the better part of 90 minutes.
The movie ends up more like a series of vlogs than an actual narrative. Swift takes us through various periods of her life, while providing commentary on iconic moments in her career—including her feud with Kanye West. She spills the tea about how she is perceived by the media. There is one scene I found both hilarious and terrifying, where Swift comments on a negative hashtag that has topped the Twitter trends.
“Do you know how many people have to be tweeting that they hate you for that to happen?” she says with a hefty dose of melodrama. Actually, I do. Some Twitter trends get to number one with only 10,000 comments. When you compare that to the 50 million records Taylor Swift has sold and the millions of fans she has worldwide, you realize how easy it is for anyone to think social media is an accurate reflection of reality rather than a collection of fringe opinions given far too much weight. And that is more blood-curdling and traumatizing than anything I saw in “Gretel & Hansel.”