Billed as a horror, the premise certainly suggests so: after wrecking his car on a lonely stretch of road, a young man (Eun-Soo) wanders into the surrounding woods and encounters a young girl called Young-Hee. She leads him back to her home in the (centre?) of the woods, where everything is just a little too...nice. But what transpires is more dark fantasy than anything else (though things do get quite horrific in places)...
The production design in HANSEL AND GRETEL is absolutely spot-on. I have a particular appreciation for films in which a location becomes a character itself, and The Home For Happy Children (Young-Hee's house) is exactly this. Its interior is filled with toys and remnants of Christmas. Weird paintings of rabbits and people wearing animal masks adorn the green and yellow walls. Certain areas of the house appear to be stuck in a state of partial decay, though everything is clean.
As if an opulent house in the middle of the woods wasn't weird enough, the décor creates a creepily cheery atmosphere compounded by Young-Hee's family: she shares the house with her older brother Man-Bok, her young sister Jung-Soon, and their parents. Everyone's welcoming and smiley, dressed in bright colours, yet clearly nervous. Why has Eun-Soo's arrival set the parents on edge? Why do they make obvious excuses to get him to stay the night? And in the morning, why do they feed him (and the children) cake and sweets? The apparent set-up suggested by the film's title, and all this peculiar behaviour, isn't true at all - but to say too much would spoil one of the most pleasant surprises I've had thanks to a film.
The film takes place over a number of days, some of which involve Eun-Soo attempting to leave. But, there's something wrong with the woods - time and direction is fluid, and escape seems impossible. One of my favourite scenes involves the trees themselves shifting, which is a wonderfully creepy image. This 'loop' aspect also traps a husband and wife in the woods/house, and it's here where things really start to get interesting...
HANSEL AND GRETEL shares its central conceit with a particularly famous episode of The Twlight Zone, though that is where any other similarities end. This is indeed a twisted fable, a dark fairy tale, about what happens when a malevolence born of evil meets a different kind of evil. These woods are deep, and dark, but they're not the real threat: they simply hide it.
I can't say enough how much I loved this film. Suggestions and insinuations are made as to the cause of the "evil" (or should that be "curse"?), but the real reason (and repercussions) is/are terrible and heartbreaking. There are a plethora of fairy-tale references scattered throughout the film; some obvious, others subtle, but all help create a baroque reality that easily fits alongside/within ours, which is especially horrible considering how that reality is birthed.
Special mention also needs to be made about the score, which is beautiful. It reminded me of Poltergeist, though the tone is definitely fairy tale rather than horror (this vid does show quite a few of the best scenes so you might want to play it but minimize this window or something so you don't spoil the film - definitely listen to the music, though - it's ace!):