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Why Gretel & Hansel Is The Scary Movie Your Kids Will Love - Exclusive

If you've seen the trailers for Gretel & Hansel, you might think the horror flick is an adults-only affair. Sure, it's based on a classic fairy tale, but the movie's pitch-black tone and disturbing images certainly make it look like you'd be better off leaving the kids at home.

Not so fast. Director Osgood Perkins spoke with Looper about his new take on the Brothers Grimm's tale, and he claims that the movie is perfect for older children and young teens. In a sense, he made the film especially for them.

"I'm particularly proud of the fact that we've made a movie that's accessible to younger audiences, but doesn't treat [them] like they're stupid," the director explains. Perkins has children of his own, and he's not impressed by many of their entertainment options. "So much of what's aimed at kids comes at them with the assumption that they're bored people, and that what needs to be put in front of them needs to be overly active, violent, ridiculous, cuddly, and stupid," he says.

Perkins doesn't want Gretel & Hansel to be part of that group. "What we've tried to do is make a movie for kids that extracts those kinds of lowest-common-denominator expectations and actually gives credit to kids for being able to hang in there with something they haven't seen before," he says.

Not that little children should see it, but Perkins thinks adolescents and teens will love Gretel & Hansel, and that the film will expand their notions of the genre. "I think that a lot of kids think that horror means things are jumping out at you constantly," Perkins says. "[Gretel & Hansel] tests their heads a little bit.... It enables them to hang in there for a minute and see what they think of as horror in a slightly different way."

Gretel & Hansel stays true to its fairy tale roots

Of course, anyone who's read the original Brothers Grimm stories knows that many classic fairy tales are actually pretty gruesome on their own. In that sense, Gretel & Hansel stays true to its source material. Dark experiences are important to kids, Perkins says.

For one example, just look at Disneyland. "People think that Disneyland is supposed to be fun," Perkins says, recalling a talk he attended by one of Disney's original Imagineers. "And [the Imagineer] was like, 'Sure, of course it's supposed to be fun, but fun is not what we are trying to design. We're trying to design reassurance.'"

Perkins invokes another classic fairy tale (or at least the Disneyland version of it), Snow White, as an example. "Anybody who's been on Snow White as a kid knows how just like impossibly pitch dark it is in there. Sounds in the woods and the witch with the apple and all that stuff. You put a kid into that ride and it's horrible for them, and then they don't think they're going to make it," Perkins explains. But then, they do: "They come out into the Anaheim sun again, and their folks are with them, and everything's fine."

Gretel & Hansel works the same way. Fairy tales are inherently instructive, Perkins says, and offer scares and reassurance in equal measure. "Don't do this. Try not to do this. Don't stray off the path, don't talk to wolves. Look twice at this, don't trust people who build their houses out of candy, etc. And then ultimately, even if things are hard, you come out the other side and you're still okay." It's a good lesson for kids, and it's one of Gretel & Hansel's biggest themes.

Gretel & Hansel showcases the horror stars of tomorrow

It helps that any kid who goes to see Gretel & Hansel will immediately see someone they can relate to up on the screen, as its heroes are children. It and It: Chapter Two scene-stealer Sophia Lillis plays 16-year-old Gretel, while newcomer Sam Leakey appears as her 8-year-old brother. According to Perkins, Gretel's coming-of-age is a huge part of the movie, and both of the film's stars brought an abundance of youthful energy to the set.

Perkins discovered Leakey via an audition the child's mother shot on her iPhone, and he says the young actor's lack of experience helped him turn in a very natural performance. "Everybody who auditioned was great, a lot of really professional and seasoned kids," Perkins says, "But then... [Leakey] takes that breath, he looks down at a certain moment and it's heartbreaking. And he was adorable. He's fearless and hysterical and brilliant."

Alice Krige, who plays Gretel & Hansel's witch, agrees. When asked about what her co-stars contributed to the shoot, Krige tells Looper, "They both bring such naked, real freshness and newness to what they're doing."

That energy rubbed off on everyone. "As an actor who's been doing this for 40-odd years, it is a gift to be with people who are fresh and new and in it," Krige says. "It's a reminder of simplicity and being-in-the-moment-ness. To be in the presence of it as I was with both of them was just an infusion of what [acting is] about, for me."

Lillis and Leakey should breathe new life into Gretel & Hansel's classic characters, anchoring a spooky experience that audiences of all ages can enjoy. "If I'm a kid, I want to see something I haven't seen before," Perkins says. With Gretel & Hansel, kids might get just that.

Gretel & Hansel arrives in theaters on January 31, 2020.