It has been a while since I sat down and watched a true-blue art film. When I picked out Hagazussa – A Heathen’s Curse I assumed it was just another horror movie and was shocked by what I found. Instead of shrills and thrills, I got a nearly silent period piece about psychosis and medieval superstitions. It goes without saying that I was a little thrown off, but happy to get something juicier than expected. While still being horrific, the director makes a point to make it clear that this is more than another supernatural thriller or The Witch rip-off. Hagazussa is a wholly original film from first time director, Lukas Feigelfeld, that is going to send the horror world into a tizzy. I can already see the twitter fights now (“is it horror or not?”) but in all of that discussion I will be shocked if anyone questions the skill on display in this movie.
Hagazussa takes place in a 15th century mountain community, buried deep within the Austrian alps. The townspeople are a harsh and primitive bunch that torment and accuse our protagonist at every turn. The story begins with a young girl tending to her ill mother before her death and then the aftermath of this experience as an adult. She is a sullen, quiet woman who is clearly unravelling into a living hell of mental illness, Once she spirals into delirium, the film takes a dark turn towards something you never see coming.
For a first time filmmaker, this film is immensely confident in its intention and execution. The striking scenes of nature and sound design are what make this film so watchable. The sparse musical score creates dread that haunts every little scene of the movie. Mundane activities are shot and scored with so much tension that the film could make the most relaxed person stressed out.
The film excels in most technical aspects, but does suffer (at times) from meandering too long between things actually happening in the movie. There are (easily) about 15 to 20 minutes that could have been excised from this film, but runs a little long at 100 plus minutes. Reducing its runtime could have made a better paced movie that still maintained its fantastically grim atmosphere. Some viewers may struggle through these long bouts of silence, but will definitely get rewarded for their patience.
While not being one of my favorite films of the year, this is still a solid movie to watch on a cold, dark night this winter. Just make sure to crank up the volume and make a big cup of coffee to get you through the slow points. If nothing else, I am excited to see what the future holds for this young director and I will be waiting eagerly for what he follows up with.