Saturday, October 2, 2021

HAGAZUSSA (2017) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 2
Total First Time Views: 2
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $64.60

Hagazussa (2017)
d. Lukas Feigelfeld (Austria/Germany) (104 min) (1st viewing)

A young girl, Albrun (Celina Peter), and her wizened mother (Claudia Martini) reside in solitude in the mountains, shunned by the world and antagonized by the locals whenever the urge strikes. They eke out this mournful existence, solely reliant on one another, until the mother becomes bedridden, vomiting uncontrollably and exhibiting gruesome boils over her body. After she dies, we flash forward 10 years where we discover Albrun (now played by Aleksandra Cwen) tending to a young female infant. No mention is made of the father, and it’s unclear what the young mother’s feelings are toward her absent lover. She does still fantasize about the physical realm, demonstrated by prolonged moaning episodes of self-pleasure, and everything she does seems to exude sensuality in its purest sense. She remains the object of the villagers’ scorn, some openly hostile while others are more insidious in their antagonism, leading Albrun to a vengeful state that could destroy the lives of all.

This stunning debut from Austrian film student Feigelfeld has been oft-compared to Robert Egger’s The VVitch due to its period setting and female protagonist. The two features, however excellent, are far more different than alike, and it’s no guarantee that those who loved one will automatically fall for the other. Hagazussa is a far more cerebral and oblique affair, concerned more with provoking questions while staunchly avoiding answers, an approach which proves equal parts frustrating and fascinating.

For example, we are clearly meant to ponder who is the father of Albrun’s daughter, wondering where he came from, where he went, what their relationship might have been, etc. We will never learn any of these details; they are never alluded to nor spoken. There might be clues, but they are buried so deep that best guesses are all that can be managed or expected.

Yet, despite this remove, Feigelfeld and his artistic collaborators weave a dark and foreboding tapestry that captivated me from the first frame of Mariel Baquiero’s achingly gorgeous cinematography and the first tones of MMMD’s hauntingly monotonous score. Broken into four chapters, “Shadow,” “Horn,” “Blood,” and “Fire,” we are offered glimpses into Albrun’s existence, empathizing without relating, wishing to understand her plight while ever leery of the truth. Even as I fell under its spell, I found myself muttering aloud, “Oh, this ain’t gonna be for everyone.” Those that found Eggers’ critically acclaimed smash too slow for their blood would do well to steer clear; it’s not a stretch to say that nary a single objectively dramatic moment occurs onscreen. We see preludes and aftermath, hints and shadows, always left wondering, always left wanting.

An atmospheric art-house chiller that defiantly and ruthlessly marches to its own beat, refusing to play down to – or even play ball with – its audience. Some might declare it impenetrable or pretentious, and I wouldn’t attempt to argue anyone out of that stance. I simply know that it worked for me, from Cwen’s breathtaking, nearly wordless turn to the powerful alpine vistas, from the nearly surreal production design (the skull-lined walls of the priest’s office) to the mind-melting finale. I’ll not be forgetting it anytime soon, and I’m already looking forward to the next viewing. Higher praise can’t be given.


  1. I gave this a blind buy and am going to try and fit it in this month.

    1. I think you'll definitely find things to appreciate about it. Looking forward to chatting with you!

  2. I thoroughly loved this film and your review makes me want to go give it another go.

    1. If I wasn't in the middle of the Scare-a-Thon, I would have probably gone back to it again already. Glad to hear you dug it.