Director: Lukas Feigelfeld
Script: Lukas Feigelfeld
Cast: Celina Peter, Aleksandra Cwen, Claudia Martini, Tanja Petrovsky
Running time: 102 minutes
There have been quite a number of very negatives reviews written about Hagazussa both online and offline, but, this being an Arrow Video release, and with me having a soft spot for so called ‘folk horror’, I thought I’d give it a go…
The first thing one realises about the director when watching Hagazussa is his love for slow – ever-so-slow- panning and zooming-in or out shots. Beginning with an impressive crane shot looking down on the heads of a couple of travellers trudging through deep snow and leaving invasive footprints behind, the film is very much a montage of similar shots held together by the merest whisper of a narrative.
Basically, the story is thus: a young girl, Albam, and her mother live on the outskirts of a remote village in the mountains and are suspected of being witches – it is a period piece you see. The mother, due to the hard living conditions and responsibility of bringing up a child alone starts to lose her marbles culminating in her attacking her 10-year old daughter with her own, first menstrual blood (yeah, you read that right!) before running off into the wilderness and succumbing to the cold and dying.
Cut to years later and the girl has now grown into a young woman with her own child, but is still shunned by the locals who seem convinced that the young ladies’ family is bad news. No mention is made of the father of the child either. Another young woman, Mutter, in the village, seems to befriend Albam, but has more sinister motives, with the end result of our outcast being raped by Mutter’s slob of a boyfriend/husband.
This last violation of trust seems to send Albam over the edge and she takes out her frustration on her baby in a very disturbing scene that I won’t spoil for you, only to say that it involves the swamp that her mother died near to.
I have to say that Hagazussa would have made quite a compelling 30 minute short film because that’s all the time you really need to tell the slight story that’s on display. The rest is just indeterminate padding that slows the story down to a slug-paced crawl.
The Alexa-shot visuals are lush, resulting in most frames being worthy of some kind of period painting, and the, mostly, silent acting is also of a high standard. Plus, the minimalist, but quite drony and very repetitive score enhances most of the visuals. Sadly, the film really tests the patience of the casual viewer, making it more suitable for the art-house-hipster (read pretentious) audience, but even they’ll run out of interest/patience before the final frame.
I did really want to like Hagazussa (which means ‘heathen’s curse’ by the way, in case you’re wondering), but I found myself struggling to stay awake at times and found myself fast-forwarding through some of the scenes where NOTHING was happening. I’m pretty tolerant of all kinds of films, from action movies to rom-coms, and from sci-fi to political dramas, but what I’m less tolerant of is if a film is boring and sadly Hagazussa falls into that category.
I’m not even sure if Hagazussa qualifies as a horror film to be honest. It has a few quite disturbing, disquieting moments, and the music is a little unsettling, but the film is more of a psychological drama rather than horror. It’s been compared with Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), but at least that film had more of a narrative driving it forward and, mercifully, a decent final pay-off.
Arrow Video is distributing Hagazussa on Blu-Ray. As per usual, Arrow Video has provided some decent special features including:
- Audio commentary with Kat Ellinger who tries her best to make the film sound interesting!
- Scene-specific commentaries with writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld – A revealing extra that enables one to try and understand the director’s mind-set when he shot the film. Worth a listen to. Most of the interiors were shot in a studio, while most of the exteriors shot close to Saltzberg, in winter, obviously.
- Deleted scene (2.38 mins) – We see Albam awakening after the death of her baby and being looked after by an old guy, Zep. Apparently all the water in the sequence represents her tears… Yawn.
- Complete soundtrack by MMMD as a separate CD, which is good to listen to if you’re writing your own horror film!
- Short films – Interferenz (48 mins) – Pwonka is an engineer of some kind working at a remote drilling site that’s based on an island. When asked to investigate an industrial accident that has killed three drillers, what he discovers might just be the death of him and his remaining fellow workers. Again a very slowly paced and pretentious film, but at least it had more of a traditional narrative structure that Hagazussa. Erol Nowak is good as the lead and there’s some haunting imagery to be seen.
- Short films – Beton (58 mins) – Markus and Ana are two teenagers with no money and too much time on their hands, so they end up shoplifting and robbing people to get some money. They buy some cocaine for a hard-core party they go to and after stealing a car Markus decides to pay an old friend of his a visit, but his old acquaintance is out so they decide to break into his flat any way, via the roof, with unfortunate results! Made two years before Interferenz (2013) this is a much more ‘rough and ready’ affair, shot on a hand-held camcorder, although it kind of works for the subject matter. Unlike the other films in this collection it has a more accessible story structure that makes sense and a pay-off that’s satisfying, to a degree.