Yim Pil-sung’s Hansel and Gretel

“Hansel and Gretel” tries a different approach to the supernatural horror genre, by transforming a classic fairy tale.

Eun-soo, a young man with some family troubles, has a car accident that leaves him injured into the woods. As he tries to get back to the road, he meets a girl with a lantern, who eventually invites him into her home. In there, he meets her two siblings, older Man-bok and little Jeong-sun, along with their parents, Yeong-sik and Su-jeong. Initially, they seem like a happy family, but as time passes, there are indications for the opposite. Eun-soo eventually realizes that he cannot get away from that forest, and that something very strange is happening in this house. Things become even more complicated when Deacon Byeon and his partner Hye-young appear in the woods, as Eun-soo discovers the children’s true story.

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Yim Pil-sung pens (with Kim Min-sook and Kim Ji-hye) and directs a film he wanted to function as a nightmarish version of the titular, German fairy tale, although it bears little resemblance to the original story apart from the children trapped in a house and the concept of the oven. The film follows the regular progress of the horror genre as the protagonist slowly but steadily realizes that he is trapped, up to the point where he discovers what exactly is happening. The agony is retained, although it does not actually permeate the film, as is wonderfully presented through small details, like the sweat appearing on Yeong-sik’s face or the strange sound coming from the ceiling. However, the setting fails to communicate the horrific atmosphere Yim wanted to give, since it is too colorful and bright, filled with children’s toys (particularly bunnies). Furthermore, the children look somewhat creepy at points, particularly Man-bok, but for the most part, and particularly the two girls are too cute to be considered dangerous. Therefore, the role of the horrible evil falls into the hands of Deacon Byeon, who can’t do much though, as the children’s abilities are revealed. However, the film’s most serious fault lies with the characters, which seem constantly out of place and unjustified, particularly Eun-soo, whose actions become even more illogical during the end.

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The sole element of the production that permanently strengthens the horror element is the sound by Choi Tae-young and Kim Shin-yong, who have done a truly terrific job (pun intended). In general, the production values are impressive, starting with Kim Ji-yong’s cinematography that presents beautiful images of both the house and the forest. Ryu Seong-hie has also done a great job in the production design and the art direction, to the point that, combined with the aforementioned and the splendid special effects, “Hansel and Gretel” is a visual extravaganza. However, this trait does not help the general atmosphere of the production, as the setting looks “too bright” for a horror film.

The three kids (Eun Won-jae, Shim Eun-kyung, Jin Ji-hee) are quite good in their parts, particularly the first one as Man-bok, and Park Hee-soon is as creepy as he should be as Deacon Byeon. Chun Jung-myung however, is mediocre, probably due to his not so well written role. Since the movie is largely based upon him, this is quite a big fault.

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“Hansel and Gretel” deserves a look for its wonderful production values, but as a horror film, it fails, at least for the most part.