HANSEL & GRETEL (2007)
Director: Yim Pil-sung
Run time: 1h 56m
Visually stunning with lush colours yet still nightmarishly dark, this horror flips its fairy tale origins to produce a more surprising traverse into the woods
Old fairy tales pulled no punches in their dark tones. Children of the past got an early education in horror.
Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm – the story of two children being kidnapped and tortured by a cannibalistic witch – is a case in point. As such, the temptation of a modern horror incarnation is to pitch the tent close to the origin story.
This is what makes Yim Pil-sung's mysterious horror reimagining all the more remarkable as it subverts both the original material and our film genre expectations to lead us to more startling and intriguing ends.
The net result of moving away from the fairy tale in terms of narrative is that the film transitions from being a straight horror and into the territory held by Korean horror masterpieces such as A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) where a mysterious backstory keeps us guessing.
The film still starts in a fashion which leads us to suspect a kidnap, fatten-up and then eat horror in the vein of the fairy tale awaits. Eun-soo (Chun Jung-myung) is arguing on the phone with his girlfriend while driving and is then involved in a crash.
He wakes up in a dark forest and meets Young-hee (Shim Eun-kyung), a young girl who takes him home to a property called the “House of Happy Children”. There, Eun-soo meets her parents, older brother Man-bok (Eun Won-jae), and younger sister Jung-soon (Jin Ji-hee).
They offer Eun-soo a sugar-filled meal and you suspect this is the start of the fattening-up process. As he attempts to leave the house, he always finds himself back there after an aimless roam around the forest.
However, this is not a straight-forward tale of fattening and cannibalism as mystery grows around the house’s children, their motivations and true pasts.
Much of the film's visual beauty comes from the production design work of Ryu Seong-hee who also worked on Oldboy (2003), The Host (2006) and The Handmaiden (2016), combined with the cinematography of Kim Ji-yong, who worked on A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Age of Shadows (2016).
The film manages to keep the brightly coloured twee fairy book look throughout while simultaneously slowly cranking the nightmarish terror. This creates a disorientating effect, one that unsettles as much as the growing mystery and looming doom.
While Shim Eun-kyung is superb as the lead, special mention must go to the performances of the children, who manage to perfectly tread some line of being tremendously cute and somehow sickly evil too. It is those performances which makes the film’s twists, turns and sad underbelly so believable and impactful.
You do have to bear with developments as they slowly creep forwards, but the film is such a visual feast you will find yourself devouring it like the irresistible gingerbread house of your dreams.