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Friday, 11 October 2019

October Horror Movie Challenge: Hagazussa (2017)



Imagine David Lynch remade The Witch, but set it in 15th Century Austria and you might have some idea of what to expect from the totally weird Hagazussa.

For the first half-hour of this glacially-paced movie young Albrun (Celina Peter) nurses her sickly mother Martha (Claudia Martini), who is seemingly dying of the plague, in an isolated shack up in the snowy Alps.

Then the story jumps forward in time and Albrun is all grown-up (Aleksandra Cwen), a full-time goat-herder with a child of her own (Gerdi Marlen Simonn) to care for, although there is no sign of the father.

Shot with a Lynchian obsession for misty landscapes, wind through tree branches, and extreme close-ups of nature, Hagazussa is unrelentingly grim, atmospheric, folk horror.

Just when you think the story can't get any darker, it goes there.

Major kudos to Aleksandra Cwen who pretty much carries the bulk of the movie on her own - with the aid of her amazingly expressive eyes, which writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld makes great use of when the subject matter crosses that line where suggestion is the only way to go.

Like The Head Hunter, there is minimal (German) dialogue (with English subtitles), so it's left largely to the viewer to piece together a narrative that suits the visuals.

Albrun and her mother have been shunned by the nearby community as "witches", but with the intervention of the local priest, Albrun is befriended by local woman Swinda (Tanja Petrovskij).

However, this takes an unexpectedly unpleasant turn.

Now, my reading of what I witnessed in Hagazussa is that the plague that then comes to the community is Albrun's revenge, but the ultra-grim events that follow are the price she has to pay for the black magic.

The multiple taboo-busting, potentially triggering, nastiness that unfolds in the final third of the 102-minute film makes The Witch look like a Carry On film in comparison.

This certainly isn't a movie for those who think jump scares are the height of horror movie craftsmanship or embrace frenetic slasher flicks as the "one true way" for the genre.

Playing heavily with the paranoia of isolation, as well as Lovecraftian fear of the unknown heightened by religious indoctrination,  Hagazussa is unnerving and horrific, rather than frightening.

You're more likely to feel a bit nauseous than scared. 

Again, like Braid the other day, this is art house horror, but served in a very different way, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark pit of the human soul on a more cerebral than visceral level (not that that there isn't viscera on display!).

Hagazussa takes the idea of the "slow burn" to excruciating new lengths, but definitely gets under your skin if you're willing to surrender yourself to it.

Right up until the final moment. Then, bizarrely, taking a leaf out of low-budget '80s fantasy, everything randomly ends in inexplicable fire.


FILMS WATCHED: 21
NEW TO ME: 14

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