Making the Grades
First, don't think for a moment you are about to watch a biopic or a nice little fairytale adventure (although hopefully the PG-13 rating would have been a major clue to the latter conclusion). Instead, the famous Grimm Bothers are at the mercy of Terry Gilliam, one of the writers and director of the 1975 cult classic Monty Python & the Holy Grail. In essence, Gilliam has put the Grimm's famous folklore titles into a blender and whipped-up a movie that weaves bedtime stories with Tim Burtonesque nightmares -- with a dash of humor tossed in for good measure.
In the film, Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) have managed to create an existence for themselves in French occupied Germany by fabricating demons and then convincing the locals to hire them to rid their town from these unwanted enchantments. On the side, when they're not killing faux witches, Jacob collects folktales and is constantly compiling them into a little book he carries everywhere. The younger of the two, Jacob has always had greater belief in the supernatural than the pragmatic Will.
However, Will's lack of faith will be put to the test when the French request their services in another community hounded by a plethora of strange and evil happenings -- including the disappearance of close to a dozen young girls. Assuming the apparitions are the makings of another trickster trying to move in on their business, the boys confidently set off to restore the peace.
But instead of finding evidence of mirrors, pulleys, and hidden platforms, the men are confounded by the amazing activities they see in the forest, such as trees walking and wolves transforming from animal to man. In the center of it all is a high tower where, legend has it, a young princess locked herself away to avoid a plague that was ravaging the countryside. Could this truly be the effect of a spell cast upon the woodland long ago? Jacob says yes, while Will insists they are the victims of an elaborate hoax.
Paying homage to many of the brothers' fairytales, the film vividly re-enacts the more frightening and unsettling aspects of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and The Gingerbread Man. For instance, the latter is portrayed as a blob of mud arising from the town well. Once above ground, it removes the eyes and mouth from a young boy and eventually engulfs the rest of him, in order to become a new being. Other scenes show decomposing bodies, including one where the legs and lower torso are missing, except for some protruding bones.
Many other scenes are just as disturbing--and bizarre. A horse, who has spiders crawling from its mouth, appears to spawn a web with which it captures a child. Then the mammal swallows the screaming victim whole. Parents may find other depictions concerning, such as Will's delight at taking two women to bed (a sexual encounter is definitely implied), the portrayals of drinking (one where a child is handed a stein of beer), and infrequent profanities.
Obviously this Czechoslovakian-US co-production isn't kiddy fare. Along with the aforementioned content, the often-abstract story is also likely too confusing for young minds to follow. From an adult perspective, the visual effects are compelling and interesting, the performances commendable, and the humor effective. Yet, even through older eyes, this dark tale is mighty Grimm.