Grab a blanket and get that popcorn ready, because an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s classic fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, is coming our way early March. Directed by actor and screenwriter Oz Perkins, whom some may recognise as the dorky law student David Kidney from Legally Blonde, the classic one-upon-a-time fairytale is revised as a cautionary coming-of-age tale. It actress Sophia Lillis starring as Gretel, navigates her way not just through a surrealist woodland landscape where the boundaries of reality and dreams become warped, but also those of womanhood where she must make difficult choices. With that, we’ve prepared a list of dark fantasy films to revisit in anticipation of the film’s arrival.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Crouched on a mountaintop looming over a storybook suburb is a forbidding Gothic mansion where Edward Scissorhands, an unfinished artificial humanoid with scissors for hands, lives. Left to his own devices with no interaction with humankind after his creator, referred to simply as The Inventor passes, Edward keeps to himself, unable to physically interact with the outside environment. When Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs pays him a visit one day and is touched by his plight, she invites him to stay at the family home, where Edward meets her daughter Kim and falls in love with her.
What’s different about this? Held by both Tim Burton and longtime collaborator film score composer Danny Elfman as their most personal and favourite work, the film’s premise was inspired after a drawing done by a teenage Burton of a thin and solemn man with scissors for hands, which reflected his feelings of isolation growing up in suburban Burbank where he was often alone and had difficultly articulating his emotions or retaining friendships with the people around him. The film’s eponymous character is a foil to physical characteristics stereotypically attributed to villains and living proof that not all monsters are immediately apparent: some come in human form.
Despite his peculiar and misunderstood appearance, inside Edward lives a kind and gentle soul that is starved for love. As he comes to understand that the neighbourhood is an artifice of normality and its inhabitants a skewed version of humanity, Edward finds the courage to look within himself and express his true identity by creating his own enchanting world of beauty.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth is the stuff of nightmares, complete with the creatures that they are made of. Set five years after the Spanish Civil war, Ofelia meets a mysterious faun who believes that she is the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, Princess of the Underworld. However, in order to prove herself worthy of returning to her kingdom, Ofelia must complete three tasks given to her by the faun, whilst protecting her mother from her sadistic and tyrannical Falangist stepfather, Captain Vidal.
What’s different about this? As the boundaries between both human and supernatural realms clash, the horror apparent lurking beneath the surface of classic fairy tales is unleashed, both equally unyielding and each containing their own horrors when order is disrupted. Stunning visual effects aside, this film is a thorough exploration of good and evil, serving as a sobering reminder that even in a magical world, each choice and every action has consequences. There is no compromise between the two, nor an escape route out—and that is the real labyrinth of life which all of us have to face, as does Ofelia.
Alice In Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton’s treatment of the Lewis Carroll novel brings an enchanting and darkly comic edge to the narrative, fleshing out the grotesque nature of the Underland dreamscape and its curious inhabitants. Characters are no longer merely cartoonish or one-dimensional as seen in the 1951 Disney film, but instead coloured in with moral shades of gray, particularly with The Knave of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. They become fractured versions of humanity grasping at a sense of balance, which only Alice can restore by slaying the Red Queen’s frilled-neck Jabberwocky with the Vorpal sword.
What’s different about this? We don’t know about you, but some of us found the 1951 Disney adaptation of Alice scary as hell. The Tweedle twins were little creeps with their rapid-fire speech, synchronised movements and peeping that teetered on the verge of sociopathy. The Red Queen was grumpy and basically just Becky with the bad hair. Burton’s version, however, brilliantly weaves an emotional dialogue between characters, giving us enough time with character to understand their underlying motivations, hopes, dreams and fears—rendering them relatable and reminiscent of those whom we might encounter in our own world.
Herein lies a version of the classic fairytale untold to human folk, beginning with a flashback of Maleficent as a young girl fairy who befriends a farm boy, Stefan, caught sneaking into the idyllic enchanted Moors on a mission of thievery. As they grow older, they share ‘true love’s kiss’ but eventually grow apart as Stefan’s affections are steadily overshadowed by ambition. An adult Stefan pays Maleficent an unexpected visit on the pretext of rekindling their friendship but instead betrays her. Devastated and driven by the trauma of Stefan’s betrayal, she transforms the Moors into a dark kingdom. When Stefan’s infant daughter Aurora is born, she casts a curse that can only be broken by true love’s kiss—something she believes does not exist.
What’s different about this? This film offers an antidote to the traditional portrayal of villains as one-dimensional characters fuelled by revenge and whom thrive on exacting vengeance, portraying Maleficent as an anti-heroine of many complex emotions and motivations rather than a straight-up villain. She feels love. She feels sadness and pain. Ironically, it is Maleficent’s compassion and ability to forgive that show her to be the character possessing the most and best of humanity, even above those of the human realm.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Jacob Portman never thought that his grandfather’s many tales of battling monsters and living at a secret home for children on the Welsh island of Cairnholm were true. Until he finds his grandfather Abe in the garden dying, with his eyes removed. His only clue is his grandfather’s dying words: “Go to the island. Find Emerson. The postcard. Go to the loop, September 1943. I know you think I’m crazy. But the bird will explain everything.” After glimpsing a monster bearing the likeliness of those described in Abe’s stories, he pays the children’s home, now in ruins, only to find the children alive and exactly like they were—as though it were still 1943. Which it now is. Learning that he himself is a Peculiar who like his grandfather, can see Hollowgast monsters invisible to other Peculiars, Jacob now has to protect the children from Hollows, who consume the eyeballs of Peculiars to regain their human form.
What’s different about this? Fun fact: the vintage photographs seen in the film actually exist and were so intriguing that Ransom Riggs felt compelled to write a novel centred around them. Eating eyeballs aside in a book meant for children, the film deals with adult themes of alternative family dynamics, identity, abandonment and loss, following our young protagonist Jacob as he finds his place in the world.
Watch Gretel & Hansel‘s trailer here. The film is slated to be released in Singapore on 5 March, 2020.