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John’s Horror Corner: Hagazussa (2017), a gorgeously shot German folk horror and a REALLY odd witch movie.

June 17, 2019

MY CALL: Not sure how to describe this one… the film isn’t pretentious, but pretentious cinephiles are gonna’ love it. More arthouse than horror, more style than substance, and more gorgeous photography than dialogue. MOVIES LIKE Hagazussa: For more recent folk horror try The Golem (2018), Apostle (2018; podcast discussion), The Ritual (2017; podcast discussion), The Witch (2016; podcast discussion), The Shrine (2010), The Village (2004), or Salem (2014-2017).

Writer and director Lukas Feigelfeld—in his first feature length horror—brings stark white beauty to the screen with shots of wintery wilderness. The dark trees silhouetted in contrast to the barren snow are illustrative of hardship. But scenes of snow-covered cabins and sunset mountains maintain a soft beauty behind the powerfully fearful superstition of the locals in 15th century Europe.

After tending her mother through illness and death as a preteen, Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) now has a baby of her own as she continues to live in the secluded cabin of her youth, just out of reach of the local townsfolk and the priesthood. The peasantry fancy her a witch, and she endures their enmity.

Before watching a film like this, it’s important to know what you’re getting into in terms of tone. Very much like The Witch (2016), this film is heavily atmospheric and slow-paced. There is nothing in the way of action, scares or special effects. It’s truly a visual spectacle and I find it deeply intriguing. But anyone seeking the next Deathgasm (2015) will be sorely disappointed.

In terms of how I felt watching this, if The Witch (2016) and a brutality-stricken Antichrist (2009) had a baby, this would be that film… only with even less dialogue and exposition.

Tonally, this film is such a curiosity—from the well-meaning local priest and the unusual dynamic between Albrun and her dying mother, to a sensual scene involving a goat and some perhaps drugs-induced mania. Was her mother a witch, bewitched herself, or simply superstitious and increasingly delusional with plague? Adding to its mystery is the general paucity of dialogue.

Overall, I find great difficulty recommending this film. It’s not fun or gory or exciting… but it’s clearly inspired and gorgeous and rich. I think films students and aficionados will notice and appreciate much more in this than most viewers.

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