Is it really a spoiler to reveal the ending of Hansel and Gretel? At the end of the 200-year-old Grimm fairy tale, Gretel traps the cannibalistic witch in her own oven, allowing her to escape with her brother Hansel and the witch's priceless stones. The kids return home rich and live happily ever after. The end.
It's a familiar ending to a familiar story, but that's not the ending to the new horror movie, Gretel & Hansel. In director Osgood Perkins' dark retelling, both Gretel and Hansel face completely different fates while the witch meets her fiery demise in a totally different way.
Spoilers for Gretel & Hansel ahead.
In Gretel & Hansel, opening in theaters Friday, director Osgood Perkins tells pretty much the same story as the Brothers Grimm did over 200 years ago, with a few notable tweaks. In the film, the siblings have a bigger age difference — Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is an older teenager looking after the younger Hansel (Sam Leakey) — and the two end up in the woods when their mother kicks them out of the house. Their father, usually depicted as a woodcutter in most versions of the story, is dead and gone in the movie. Meanwhile, the evil witch (Alice Krige) has her own backstory that reveals how she developed a taste for children.
But it's in the ending where Gretel & Hansel makes the biggest departure to a story that's two centuries old. While Gretel still burns the witch in her own oven, the "oven" is now a giant fire pit beneath her home. Picture a giant Hawaiian fire pit, except instead of cooking pigs (yummy) it's for cooking terrified children (not yummy).
Also, Gretel inherits the supernatural powers of her nemesis, allowing the teenage girl to free the souls of the children the evil witch killed. After burning the witch to vanquish her forever, Gretel helps her brother escape to their new foster home. Gretel stays behind in the woods, alone, to master her new abilities.
"Part of the design of this movie was to bring things to the contemporary mindset," says director Osgood Perkins in an interview with Inverse. "[The witch] has that horrible room under her house, this white brick oven room with this cage. That was meant to feel like a serial killer's lair, something out of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Y'know, this is my special place where I do all my terrible and unspeakable shit."
Because of the new design for the witch's oven, there had to be more "steps" for the witch to cook the children. "Just for the sake of tension, drama, and anxiety, we built in steps that needed to be taken," the director says. "Kind of what Spielberg would do. So it's not just, one, two, three things, but one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight things to happen."
Here's the new tension in the final scene: The witch cooks her prey in a cage, hoisted above the large fire. There's a ladder leading directly up to the cage, where the witch would allow her victim/food to climb in. If successful, the witch can remove the ladder, lower the cage, and let it burn.
It was all in the interest of allowing some new conflict in a classic story. "We decided it had to be more than just, Gretel kicks her into the oven and runs away," Perkins says. "The original draft was more or less [that]. We wanted to see that Gretel could manifest a special kind of power that she does with the staff."
Arguably, the biggest change in Gretel & Hansel is its title, which reflects the ending centered all on Gretel. With the names flipped from the usual "Hansel and Gretel," the director hopes audiences understand the film is Gretel's story, where she learns to survive and harness her innate powers not only as a witch but as a young woman coming of age in the world.
"I can’t take responsibility," Perkins says. "When the project came to me, the scripts bore the title, Gretel & Hansel." (Perkins is credited as co-writer with Rob Hayes.)
"But it instantly made one of them more important than the other. It made Gretel more important. I felt that gave us the opportunity to make a coming of age story. More than just a horror movie or an escape room movie — that shit doesn't interest me. It was more about watching a young woman becoming herself, reaching for her self-hood. By putting her name first, it propels the whole experience into a coming of age."
Gretel & Hansel opens in theaters on January 31.