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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.03.13] Canada thriller drama

A number of years ago, short film director Danishka Esterhazy made a splash with her feature film debut, the low key period drama Black Field. A story of two sisters living alone on a farm, the film was not only an interesting family drama but a really dark, gritty thriller. For her follow-up, Esterhazy has not strayed far from her debut, this time adapting the familiar story of Hansel and Gretel into a family drama that is even darker in theme than her first film.

The title H & G refers to Gemma and Harley, an adorable brother and sister who live with their mother, a woman more interested in finding a guy than caring for her children. It's clear from the start that Gemma is often charged with looking after herself and her brother while their mother Krysstal does her own thing, occasionally stopping to look after her kids. When Krysstal's new guy wants to take her to a party and mom can't find a babysitter, she decides to drag the kids along, leaving them in the car. The date ends badly and a series of events leaves Krysstal stranded on the side of the road and her kids alone in the woods a few miles down the road.

Two kids alone in the woods is bad enough but H & G gets particularly creepy when Gemma and her brother wonder onto a property and are taken in by Brendon, a quiet young man who appears to live there alone. At first he seems friendly, just a lonely guy who sees two kids in distress and offers to help them but as one day drags into a few, it quickly becomes clear that there is something a little off about Brendon.

One of the things I love most of Esterhazy's work is that it straddles fantasy and horror in equal parts. It's not gruesome or outwardly violent but there's a constant feeling that something sinister is just around the corner and H & G captures that, going from light and playful to dark and dreary in the span of moments; watching TV in the living turns particularly troublesome when the kids hide from Brendon's friends in the bathroom.

The best scenes in H & G are between the two children. Breazy Diduck-Wilson and Annika Elyse Irving as Gemma and Harley respectively, have a natural chemistry and it's hard to believe the pair aren't actually related considering how well they work together. Diduck-Wilson is particularly impressive. The young actress is responsible for not only most of the movie's dialogue but she also carries most of the emotional burden and she captures fierceness and protectiveness that makes her appear much older than her young years. She's an amazing discovery and by far the highlight of an otherwise mediocre cast, a good thing considering the movie relies most heavily on her performance.

Though the adult performances are underwhelming, H & G overcomes the shortfalls with an outstanding performance from the movie's young star, great cinematography from Andrew Luczenczyn who captures the film with a brightness that contrasts nicely with the film's dark themes and great direction from Esterhazy whose work continues to explore the darker side of humanity.

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