Fantastic Fest 2017 Review: HAGAZUSSA Paints Terrible Beauty
When Fantastic Fest programmer and producer Annick Mahnert introduced Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse, she mentioned that it was a student film and that her jaw dropped when screening it. She wasn't joking.
Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse could be easily labeled as the indie German version of The Witch. All comparisions aside, the film is quite different than the tale of a young girl and her family losing their minds, religion, and lives in early Colonial America. With nearly no dialogue and a VERY slow burn of a loose plot, this isn't going to be a film for everyone.
That's not to say that Hagazussa isn't effective. It's long, lingering shots of dead or eviscerated animals, human suffering, bodily decay, and long takes are going to disturb a lot of people. Directed by Lukas Feigelfeld, Hagazussa is the story of a 15th Century goat herder and her mother, who live alone in the woods, isolated from the local villagers. At once, we can tell that something's not right with the mother, who doesn't cast spells, but does fall prey to fits. Of what, I can't exactly say.
Time goes on, and the mother passes away from disease, but the daughter still hears her name being called. As she grows up, she bares a child as well, another girl doomed to be taunted and cast aside by the villagers, who don't seem to understand much outside their bubble.
Just as the main character believes she has made a friend, so are we tricked into believing that things might be okay. A series of events pulls out the worst in the woman we follow, and she initiates a furious but quiet vengeance that takes out her tormentors.
Hagazussa is one of those films that's hard to review; again, with nearly no dialogue and traditional plot structure, we are left in an abstract void as the terrors before us unfold. And these terrors are visceral and unforgiving. It's a hard watch, but for those who seek out films that hurt, you won't be disappointed. The film is photographed beautifully; many scenes feel like an oil painting of the Dark Ages come to life. While many scenes are mortifying, there's much beauty to behold in these little deaths.
Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse plays encore screening at Fantastic Fest on Wednesday, September 27 at 2 pm. Watch the trailer below.