In director Osgood “Oz” Perkins’s film Gretel & Hansel, a girl (Sophia Lillis from the It films) and her younger brother (Sammy Leakey) leave home during a time of pestilence and famine. On their travels they encounter a kindly huntsman (Charles Babalola) before finding solace in the home of an elderly woman (Alice Krige) whose motives may not be altogether pure. Written by Rob Hayes, the movie is, of course, inspired by the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel.
“In the title, the names are reversed, which obviously caught my attention,” says Perkins, the director of previous chillers The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. “It’s awfully faithful to the original story, it’s got really only three principal characters: Hansel, Gretel, and the Witch. We tried to find a way to make it more of a coming of age story. I wanted Gretel to be somewhat older than Hansel, so it didn’t feel like two twelve-year-olds — rather a sixteen-year-old and an eight-year-old. There was more of a feeling like Gretel having to take Hansel around everywhere she goes, and how that can impede one’s own evolution, how our attachments and the things that we love can sometimes get in the way of our growth. Sophia Lillis is really fantastic. She has one of those faces that the camera immediately understands, which is something that rarely happens. For my style and for my taste, which tends to be minimalist and a little bit more mannered, she’s really a dream.”
Another dream-like gift? The audition tape Perkins received from Alice Krige.
“All I knew when I went into the casting [the role of the Witch] was that I didn’t know what I wanted,” says the director. “The word ‘witch’ was maligned for so many hundreds of years and was such a negative. Now, being a witch has the quality of having power, one’s own power. Alice Krige made the weirdest and most wonderful tape. She wore this headscarf, her face floated, it looked like something out of Bergman. There was this weird kind of breathing, I don’t know if it was on purpose or not. It felt like there was a five hundred pound dog in the room with her. It was so atmospheric.”
Perkins shot the film in Ireland with locations including The Hell Fire Club, a ruined hunting lodge once frequented, so local legend has it, by the Devil.
“The Hell Fire Club is this massive, foreboding, stone structure, just all by itself, on the top of a hill,” says Perkins. “It almost feels like an old prison or something like that. I guess the story is that the Devil played cards there….One night, [someone] drops one of his cards, and goes to pick it up, and one of his opponents has cloven feet.”
Was it unnerving to shoot there, or is the filmmaker — the son of Psycho star, Anthony Perkins — beyond being creeped-out at this point?
“You’re just trying to make your day,” says Perkins. “That was a very very difficult day, actually. It’s cold and it’s super wet. I mean, if you’re worried about any supersitition, you’re not paying attention.”
Gretel & Hansel is released in cinemas, Jan. 31, 2020.
Exclusively see a first look image of Lillis in the film below.