Director Osgood "Oz" Perkins with Sam Leakey, who makes his acting debut as Hansel, on the set of "Gretel & Hansel". Picture: Supplied
Director Osgood "Oz" Perkins with Sam Leakey, who makes his acting debut as Hansel, on the set of "Gretel & Hansel". Picture: Supplied

'Gretel & Hansel' is Osgood 'Oz' Perkins' most ambitious film to date

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Mar 7, 2020

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When it comes to thrillers, Osgood “Oz” Perkins (full name Osgood Robert "Oz" Perkins II) is no stranger to the genre. After all, he had the best teacher - his late actor dad Anthony Perkins, who played Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) as well as its three sequels.

In fact, he acted alongside his father in "Psycho 2". 

As a writer-director, he proved his Midas touch with Netflix offerings "The Blackcoat’s Daughter" and "I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House". And he has "A Head Full of Ghosts" coming out next year. 

It is little wonder that he gravitated towards "Gretel & Hansel", which has been touted as his most ambitious project to date. 

On bringing Rob Hayes’ screenplay to life, Perkins reveals, “Fairytales are elementally rooted in the collective unconscious. Whether you’re approaching storytelling through Joseph Campbell or through any of those sort of monomyth approaches, the earliest stories are salient throughout time. 

"So when something as pure as Hansel and Gretel came my way, the feeling was there’s a weird scary, deeply affecting movie to be had here. Because all of these old stories, they live in people. They live in us, kind of from birth; kind of like it’s almost already there when we come into consciousness. 

"Whether you’re a 12-year-old or a 112-year-old, you already kind of grok the meanings – they may be different for each person – but it’s already built-in. I liked that we were working from source material that was almost cellular to the human experience.”

Of course, this dark fantasy horror film, which is based on the German folklore tale by the Brothers Grimm, gets a twist, while the essence of the tale remains strong.

In this movie, there are a handful of characters with teenager Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her younger brother Hansel (Sam Leakey) seeking out work after the death of their father. When they return home jobless, their mother throws them out after hearing that morals got in the way of the siblings returning with good news. 

As they brave the unknown they encounter several characters, which eventually leads them to Holda / The Witch (played by South African actress Alice Krige). 

Expanding on how they decided to take the original story forward, especially with the flip in the name, Perkins says, “After the script came to me we did a lot of development and revision. Between the draft that arrived on my desk and the shooting script, it was really quite different. 

"But obviously, right off the title page, the rearrangement of the names, putting Gretel’s name before Hansel’s, to me suggested that this was going to be more about her experience. Reversing the names is such a simple thing.

"But for me, it changed the context entirely. We kept the ‘incident’ of the story more or less pure to the Grimm Brothers’ telling. And we didn’t add anything, which is what Hollywood has done a lot of in the past… 

“What was important to me was that it became more about her journey, so by the time we get to the end of the movie she’s sort of ‘on her way.’ It became almost an origin story, the story of a girl going from being powerless to powerful. In that sense it’s different than the original telling, otherwise, it’s just as you would expect it to be in terms of, ‘this happens and then this happens’.”

On casting Lillis, he offers, “I knew that Gretel had to be somebody special, somebody singular. It couldn’t be a model who wants to act or something like that. It had to be somebody who was grounded and present. 

"Sophia is amazing in that she was 16 when shot the movie, and very much a 16-year-old. You know, not one of these people who is 16 but presents as 35. She’s very much a kid and has this really rare gift where the camera understands her face and her eyes in a way that it only does for certain people. 

"When she’s off-camera, she’s one thing. But when she’s on camera, she’s an entirely different entity. My DP (Galo Olivares) and I were always saying that. The camera loves her so much… Frankly, in terms of casting, we didn’t expect that we would get her.”

"Gretel & Hansel" is currently showing at cinemas nationwide.

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