Hansel and Gretel can be considered a part of the horror genre, but gets its frights more from atmospheric fantasy horror a la Pan's Labyrinth. While the visual creative strengths of the film are very, very strong, they don't fully make up for the weak and unoriginal script.
The story itself is either intentionally inspired by or at least unusually reminiscent of Joe Dante's segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. In this instance, our protagonist, Eunsu (Cheon Jeongmyeong), gets into a car accident, waking up as a young girl, Yeonghui (Sim Eun-gyeong), happens upon him in the deep deep woods. Leading him to her exquisite Home for Happy Children, he runs into the rest of her family in a remarkable colorful Western-style dream house. The next day, he tries to leave the house, but finds himself backtracked to the strange house. And there's clearly something wrong in what appears to be the perfect home.
Before I get into the story, I just want to say that this film looks amazing. From top notch sets, gorgeous art and production design, to the immense photography, the film is as delicious-looking as the heaping plates of candy served to Eunsu for breakfast. Even when its disturbing, the visual aspect of the film is surprisingly on par with those presented in Pan's Labyrinth, without seeming like its mimicking those baroque designs. Top that off with an effective score and remarkable performances by the three child actors, you have a production that is top-notch.
The problem with Hansel and Gretel is with the script. If you've seen the aforementioned Twilight Zone segment, you've seen most of what this film has to offer, except that it takes two hours instead of twenty-five minutes to play out. The film does fill in a lot of backstory to the children as well as the stranger that shows up later. The first hour is actually fairly decent, but once you figure out what's going on, the story doesn't progress much, instead, it just fills in a lot of backstory which, frankly, is unnecessary and bogs down the pace of the film, taking the story away from the protagonist, who becomes easy to stop caring too much about. Also, there appear to be a number of "cool scenes", that is, scenes that have a lot of evocative imagery (like the boy in the library), but the details presented don't seem to matter at all in the end, and result in confusing the story even more. I don't like having a lot of detail thrown at me, remembering it and then finding most of it to be extraneous. Finally, because of the weakness in the second half of the film, it becomes difficult to believe in the protagonist's shift in character and there is a horrible lack of sufficient character development for one particular child to do what culminates in the ending.
Yet, despite the huge glaring weakness in the writing of the film, it still remains significantly interesting just on its visual/aural artistic merits. I think with a stronger, tighter script, director Im Pilseong and his production team have immense potential. However, in this case, the strength of the film is neutered by a messy story that had me wondering why I was seeing the exquisite imagery I was seeing in the end. As such, I think this is a flawed, but interesting, film that fans of dark fantasy films might want to check out. 7/10.