comScore Trailer for Gretel and Hansel Is Still Scared of Witches | The Mary Sue
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The Full Trailer for Gretel and Hansel Shows Hollywood Is Still Scared of Witches



A few years out from The VVitch and Hollywood is still on with the derivative horror based on witch-y women. It’s not surprising, considering the persistence of the image of the witch in popular culture, but as a pagan and a student of witches and what they represent, I have to say: I’m so over this.

Let’s go over the horror of this trailer first. Gretel and little brother Hansel are lost in the woods. No breadcrumbs to be found, but they do happen across a mysterious old woman who is all too eager to fatten them up with food that seems to come out of nowhere. In this version however it seems that Gretel isn’t destined to be dinner for the witch, she’s perhaps an apprentice? Now it’s not just a cautionary tale of cannibalism, but of horror and corruption!

There’s blood, gore, lots of implied cannibalism and inverted pentagrams thrown around everywhere along with ominous images of the witch eating or regurgitating … hair? It’s meant to be creepy, but for anyone that’s seen The VVitch or (shudder) Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters, it’s tired. It’s also borderline offensive. Why? Because the entire idea of the evil witch or pagan, especially as depicted in period pieces, is based on misogynist crap.

A history lesson first. Witch hunts were real. I’m not just talking about Salem here, I’m talking about the kind that plagued Europe during the renaissance, where mostly women – usually anyone with knowledge or power that threatened the status quo, or other outsiders –  were accused of being witches, tortured and killed. This horrifying trend spread in part due to a book called the Malleus Maleficarum, or the “hammer of the witches” that functioned as a how-to of witch-hunting.

These murders were based on fear, on superstition, and deeply ingrained cultural misogyny that we still haven’t completely shaken. Witches remain icons of the evil that occurs when a woman has power. We’ve shifted perspectives in the last century, but the image of a child-eating crone with a big hat and gnarled fingers is still with us, and Gretel and Hansel promises to add to that legacy.

The horror of The VVitch was based on the concept of ” what if everything those European witch hunters or the people of Salem believed was true?” It’s a close call if this succeeds in that film in terms of the extent to which the basis for these fears is interrogated. Instead of showing this image of the witch as the fiction it was, it shows how scary the idea was … but maybe also empowering? The women accused of being witches probably didn’t think so.

And now we’re back again with Gretel and Hansel, which looks like it’s going even further with a dramatization of the sort of witch thousands of women died after they were accused of being. There are countless other movies with evil witches that also use symbols like the pentagrams (which is used by modern witches as a symbol of power, balance, and protection) and the image of the witch to tell cautionary tales about female power.

The idea that women who claim power eat babies and make deals with the devil (a man, of course) to do it is misogynist, and also extremely contrary to modern Wicca and paganism. These films don’t care about offending those people, of course, it’s a tiny minority religion … but they should care about the messages about feminine power even just this trailer sends by its nature by depicting a powerful woman as a basis for horror.

Gretel and Hansel has been relegated to a release in January, the month where unwanted movies go to quietly die, so it remains to be seen if it will make any sort of lasting cultural impact. It opens on the 31st, with its only competition from another thriller, The Rythm Section so it will certainly get some eyeballs but I hope some of them come home and read some history.

(via, image: Orion Pictures/United Artists)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.