Jul 12, 2019
It’s Friday, so that means another review from our good friend Andrew Campbell. I forgot to thank him last week for missing a whole week of work to liberate me from the bunker. He hasn’t had a good run of films lately, if you’ve been following his Twitter account. Will today be better? You’ll find out in a minute, but be sure to check out his recent reviews for “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” (Episode #523), “The Nightshifter” (Episode #515), and “The Perfection” (Episode #508).
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Here we go!
Hello film fans!
Andrew here, back this week with... a tricky one: a gothic horror film set in the snowy Alps of 15thcentury Germany. The trailer promises ominous forces and palpable dread without delivering a single word of dialogue other than [SOUND] which translates from the German to [SOUND]. Much like the trailer, I, too, was rendered nearly speechless after watching this film which, for better or worse, doesn’t provide much to chew on. This may be a quick one.
Today’s film is “Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse”, written and directed by Lukas Feigelfeld, which made its world premiere at the 2017 Fantastic Fest. In the opening act, a young girl named Albrun (Celina Peter) lives in an isolated one-room cottage nestled in a snow-covered forest. Albrun and her mother are suspected by the townspeople of being witches and are terrorized by some of the men. After her mother passes away under strange circumstances, Albrun is left to raise herself alone, through her teenage years and twenties, as the story flashes ahead fifteen years. The older Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) remains alone in her cottage, now raising a newborn with no explanation offered as to the father’s name or whereabouts. Albrun is shunned by the townsfolk before striking up an awkward friendship with another young mother. Will she be accepted into the community or will the people be justified in their suspicions?
This film essentially combines a specific subgenre – “historical folk horror” - with a specific filmmaking style - “decompressed storytelling”. Neither the genre nor the style have much commercial appeal on their own, so when writer/director Feigelfeld jammed them together, he was likely aware of the limited audience such a film would garner.
When it comes to folk horror, it just so happens that one of the best films since the original “The Wicker Man” (1973) was just released last week with Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” (Episode #527). Both of those films excel in revealing the cultural motivations of their people (as disturbing as those may be), as well as introducing individual characters and positioning them within their society. They also provide a very clear sense of geography, taking place within the discrete setting of a small village. With “Hagazussa”, all we are given is that people believe this family of women to be witches, and that they live segregated from the town, but perhaps within walking distance. The vagueness is relentlessly frustrating.
“Decompressed storytelling” is just a fancy way of saying a film or television show moves slowly, which means you may be staring at some long scenes with very little dialogue to help you pick up on what the story is trying to convey. I don’t have a ton of patience for films that go this route, but there is one director that has mastered the artform. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn gained acclaim for the “Pusher” trilogy and what was perhaps Tom Hardy’s breakout role with 2008’s “Bronson”. He later found his muse with Ryan Gosling, and knocked out a couple decompressed crime films with “Drive” and “Only God Forgives”. Most recently, June saw Amazon release his first television series “Too Old to Die Young” which includes several episodes pushing an hour and a half in length. The show is moody, slow and downright inaccessible to mainstream audiences, but every shot is composed with the touch of an artist. “Hagazussa” attempts this same style, but the locations are so dreary and the seldom bursts of plot so dry, that it’s just too difficult to enjoy much of the scenery.
What makes “Hagazussa” fantastic? At this point, it will shock you to hear me say this, but [SOUND] “not much”. I can see what the director was trying to pull off with the story and he is certainly capable of working a camera. However, I just can’t pin down any one truly memorable component of this film; and the alchemy it seeks to achieve by combining elements from other works does not yield any gold.
“Hagazussa” (2017) is a slow burning piece of historical terror that doesn’t promise much and succeeds only in fizzling out. Fans of “The Witch” may be tempted to give this one a try, but Black Phillip The Goat thinks you should give this one a pass.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
One Movie Punch: [SOUND] 5.2/10
“Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse” (2018) is not rated and is currently streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime.
Come back next week and we’ll try to bust out of this two-week slump with “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek”. The premise promises a unique approach to the tried and true “dirty cop” story. The trailers give off a vibe similar to Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room”, which also features a standoff of sorts. Sounds promising. I’ll see you then.