Director Oz Perkins Talks Being Faithful to the Fairytale in Gretel & Hansel [Exclusive]

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Oz Perkins is, in a low-key way, becoming one of the go-to horror filmmakers these days for female-driven genre cinema. His previous two movies, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Little Thing That Lives in the House, both had strong female-driven points of view. Perkins’ latest effort, Gretel & Hansel is no different.

While the title suggests a flipping of the script with the classic Grimm fairytale, Oz Perkins set out to tell a new version of this bedtime story in a very faithful way that modern moviegoers can enjoy. Much like the tale we’re all familiar with, the movie centers on a girl and her younger brother who unwittingly stumble upon the house of an evil witch in the dark woods.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Oz Perkins in honor of the release of Gretel & Hansel. We not only discuss his latest directorial effort, but we also talk about why he hasn’t seen all of IT yet, what he’s goit coming up next and his movie Medusa, which he hopes to make one day.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Oz Perkins: My pleasure, my pleasure.

I was at the screening last night and I was delighted that there were a bunch of kids there, because I think the thing is, as you get older, you start to forget that a lot of things like this can be made for kids. One of my favorite things you said before the screening, you said this is made for younger people. When you first got the script, was that like your immediate intention? Like, “I’m gonna make a PG 13, this is for younger people horror film.”

Oz Perkins: Yes, the thing I sometimes say to Dan Hagen and Orion is Where’s Gremlins? Who is doing Gremlins anymore? There just isn’t Gremlins anymore. PG-13 Horror pictures are, It’s kind of a strangely under-serviced niche. It’s so important, I think, especially when you’re dealing with a fairytale, which is a message to children. It’s a letter to a kid. It’s a coded message for Children. I almost feel like the expectation, the obvious version would have been to make an adult horror movie out of Hansel and Gretel.

Yeah, what I think, to that point, the problem is that Hollywood always follows the money, right? I think for me it goes back to The Conjuring in 2013. All of a sudden that just blew the doors off. Then studios are like, “Great. These are the types of horror movies that make money.” Let’s go R-rated.

Oz Perkins: Absolutely.

But I agree with you. I think there’s a there’s a ton of room for PG-13 horror. So I was kind of happy to see that.

Oz Perkins: I’m thrilled with how it’s gone.

To that point, you mentioned a fairytale thing. Another thing I really like that you said ahead of the screening… it’s funny because you answered a bunch of my questions ahead of time.

Oz Perkins: Funny for you, maybe [laughs].

Like you said, you wanted to just tell this story as the story. You didn’t want to play with too much, but naturally, to make it a feature-length, you’ve kind of got to make some choices and some narrative decisions. Without spoiling too much, ou made some very specific and interesting narrative choices, and I’ll let you decide how much you want to say about that. But how did you arrive at your way to pad this thing out to a feature?

Oz Perkins: That’s good. I feel like as long as we have the road map of these are the incidents, were not going to f*** with the incidents. We’re not going to inject mayhem right? Where it’s not necessary. It gave an opportunity for just slow build filmmaking and just sort of, there’s a few things in the movie that are kind of not from anywhere like the “Hansel and Gretel eat mushrooms,” right? That was sort of like, first of all, an opportunity for a little bit of levity, right? So important and sort of surprising, and also to sort of indicate our world, to point to our world. It’s a sign that says, our world is one that’s enchanted, and that’s good. And that’s not so great. I wanted to see our characters understand that. Understand the tone of the movie in a way, that when they take mushrooms, it’s kind of like this is what the movie’s going to be like. If that even answers your question.

Movies with kids could be challenging for various reasons, and that’s if you have kids as part of the cast. Sophia and, I forgot the young boy’s name.

Oz Perkins: Sammy Leakey!

Both fantastic. But again, 95 percent of the movie is them. From a pure filmmaking standpoint, how challenging is that?

Oz Perkins: Nightmare. Pure nightmare. In truth, we shot the movie in Ireland, where they really take children working as very serious. This thing, which is wonderful for them, and wonderful for us, too. Of course, we want our kids to be happy, but it was difficult at times. There were days when I could shoot with Samy, for instance, who was eight at the time, I could shoot him for like, four hours. So when you’re on a movie that’s 25 days, and your two characters are both children, it’s lucky you get anything.

Oh my God! So you’re doing four hour days sometimes on a 25 day schedule?

Oz Perkins: Sometimes scheduled with four hour days with him. So you gotta be your creative about it. Luckily, the way we have designed movie, there’s no two-shots. If you may have noticed. There’s like one or two shots, everything else is a single. That was a stylistic choice before we realized that the schedule was going to be such a cluster f***.

You did say something, this is a little off-topic but a little on-topic. Sophia is amazing in this.

Oz Perkins: She’s special.

She was also in IT. One of my favorite things you touched on last night is, I think you joked you had too many beers or something, and you mentioned that you hadn’t seen all of IT. That happened to be my favorite movie of 2017.

Oz Perkins: S***.

[Laughs]. I just had to bring it up! Is there a reason? Did it just not work for you?

Oz Perkins: Honestly, I take responsibility for my own, where my headspace was at. Sometimes I just get distracted, And it’s time for me to just go do something else. And it wasn’t that I had any problem with movie. Obviously, it’s glorious and couldn’t be more successful if it tried. But it was one of those things where it’s like, I kind of get, it’s almost like an insect gets in my brain and it’s like, “You know what? We really need to be thinking about this other thing right now. We can’t do this.” So I was… I went to the Cinerama Dome by myself to see the movie on opening night, and I was like, “I’ve got s*** to do” and I was just like, I’ll get back to it.

Oh wow! So this wasn’t even sitting at home on the iPad. This was bailing out of the theater.

Oz Perkins: I f****** know, man [laughs]. I know.

Are you Stephen King fan in general?

Oz Perkins: I don’t know that I’m a Stephen King fan. I have certain pleasant nostalgia about Stephen King. One of the first things that my Dad I have ever really did together in this space was we read Misery at the same time. We handed Misery back and forth to each other when I was like 13. So I remember that and the feeling of that. My dad was a big paperback reader, so there was a lot of Stephen King things around. I haven’t read a lot of natural Stephen King. I’ve seen all the stuff and God knows he’s invented everything. So obviously my hat is off. But I can’t say that I think about it a lot [laughs].

Oh yeah. Well, he’s one of those things. There’s Marvel, DC, but Stephen King is really like a brand in entertainment right now.

Oz Perkins: Absolutely. Nonstop.

Back to the movie at hand here, I feel like, I always joke I’m not a very insightful viewer. I’m very much surface level. That’s just how I got into it. I’m a fan first. Plot holes escape me because I just like to watch stuff.

Oz Perkins: I love it.

But I did pick up on…

Oz Perkins: Did you find some mistakes?!

No! No. Not at all. I’m the last person that would. I felt like resisting temptation was an enormous thing. Was that a very conscious decision to make that a huge theme in the movie? Or was that a happy accident?

Oz Perkins: Oh, yeah. Part of Gretel’s awareness, and she says it in plain language some of the time, is that nothing is free. Nothing comes to you that doesn’t have this other side. There’s no light that doesn’t cast a shadow. And so the temptation to receive is kind of what we were putting out there. The temptation to accept things and just take things at their face value. That’s sort of the temptation that needs to be resisted in this movie. It’s kind of the importance of think that extra step. Don’t just give in to your desire, right? God knows that only leads to things being f*****d.

I know you talked about this a little last night, but for our reader’s sake, if you don’t mind, because I was kind of with other people. “Okay, Gretel & Hansel. That’s cute. They’re going to flip the name.” But then when you see the movie you’re like, “Oh! There’s a reason!” Can you kind of touch on what the thought was behind flipping the name?

Oz Perkins: Yeah, the script came to me with the names flipped, which was automatically like, “Oh. That’s interesting and curious. Then we worked to develop it into a coming of age movie that’s a little bit more of an origin story of a girl’s self-hood. Kind of the feeling is that she starts in a place, that the title suggests, that she’s always been yoked to this story, and she’s always just followed this story. It’s always been kind of the track that she’s been on. So the opportunity for her to sort of quote “find her own story” became the spine of the movie and validated the brilliant title.

Going a little more broad, your first three movies have been horror movies.

Oz Perkins: Yes.

Obviously, you must love it because to make a movie you have to love what you’re doing. But I think it’s easy, Hollywood is very good at putting people in a box. But I look at a guy like Scott Derrickson who did horror, and then he made Doctor Strange and it was amazing. What are some other things, if anything, that you would like to do outside of horror?

Oz Perkins: The next thing I’m going to do, actually, next week is, I wrote and I’m directing an episode of The Twilight Zone for Jordan Peale’s company.

Oh God, that’s awesome!

Oz Perkins: Yeah, it’s really exciting because they kind of gave me the keys to the city, and I think I’m the only person who wrote and is directing their own kind of standalone, authored episode. What it’s permitting me to do for an hour is to be more sort of deadpan, I don’t want to say cheeky, but sort of deadpan, intelligent about human beings today, with a slight sci-fi twist. The original Twilight Zone, for me, is just a touchstone of all things. It’s just the best taste.

It’s incredible.

Oz Perkins: It really is. So daring, and trippy, and weird, and unapologetic, and just out of its mind. I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience it at the time. So the episode I wrote for them that we’re going to go do is meant to sort of feel like an old episode. It’s actually, it’s very meta. You’ll see. And I think that I think the ways to use IP, to use intellectual property in a meta way is fascinating to me. So you’ll probably see me doing something like that.

You did say one other thing last night that was interesting to me. Most things you work on may never get made, and you joked that you were working on this “bleeding out of your eyes” movie before this came your way.

Oz Perkins: Always, yeah.

What was that? Do you remember specifically what that was? I would love to know what that passionate thing is for you.

Oz Perkins: I have a movie called Medusa, a script called Medusa that I wrote, which is not about the Gorgon Queen, but it’s set in the 50s. It’s a small town satanic cult in sort of a John Steinbeckien California Town. It’s f****** magical and very difficult to put together because it doesn’t fit anybody’s anything. It’s a horror movie in a way, but in another way, it’s kind of like this 50s period piece. It feels as much like Grease to me as it’s supposed to feel like Eyes Without a Face, if you can imagine such a thing. So this movie is written and has a lot of fans out there, and maybe it becomes a movie. But it exists in that weird kind of no man’s land where people who buy and make movies, they really struggle to understand how to sell things. It’s so elemental. We’ll figure it out. But it’s a picture called Medusa.

I think in a world where Midsommar gets made…

Oz Perkins: You’d think!

It feels possible.

Oz Perkins: It’s possible.

Gretel & Hansel is in theaters now from Orion Pictures.

Ryan Scott at Movieweb