Panic Fest 2023 Review: RAZZENNEST Successfully Brings an Audio Drama to Film

Johannes Grenzfurthner wrote and directed. Michael Smulik, Anne Weiner, Roland Gratzer, and Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh star.

Contributing Writer; Chicago, IL (@anotherKyleL)
Panic Fest 2023 Review: RAZZENNEST Successfully Brings an Audio Drama to Film

Razzennest has a bold formal premise: almost the entire 80-minute running time plays out as an audio drama in the form of a commentary over images of an in-universe film.

The commentary for the film, also titled Razzennest, brings together arrogant and abrasive director Manus Oosthuizen (Michael Smulik), calm and kind producer Ellen Zampaglione (Anne Weiner), director of photography (or “camera-operator” depending on who you ask) Hetti Friesenbichler (Roland Gratzer), and young film critic Babette Cruickshank (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh).

The in-universe film is non-narrative, featuring only images of human-less spaces and animals accompanied by a haunting score by Alec Empire (whose score for the “fake” film also functions as the score for the "real" film). The formal element of the film-within-a-film allows writer/director Johannes Grenzfurthner to create a beautiful visual film while also snarking at the inherent pretension of a non-narrative feature-length film that purposely avoids any images of humans. There’s a sense that Grenzfurthner is at odds with himself as an artist and has found a way to make both sides work for him.

He clearly has the talent as a filmmaker to deliver a compelling visual work based solely on images of empty rural spaces interspersed with shots of living and dead animals, but the commentary shows signs of annoyance and real frustration with this kind of self-important film. It’s to Grenzfurthner’s credit that the drama that unfolds on the commentary never feels at odds with or draws away from the images, or vice versa.

That drama takes some time to develop, as the first third of the film features the four characters chatting over the in-universe film, albeit with Oosthuizen frequently chastising Cruickshank and correcting Friesenbichler. It’s often funny, as Oosthuizen’s arrogance fluctuates between laughable and actually off-putting, and there are very 2023 cinephile references to letterboxd, Kier-La Janisse, and more. During this section, we learn that the film is obliquely about the Thirty Years’ War, as the camera explores an area of Austria that’s home to caves used by civilians to hide during the conflict.

Without going into the chaos that erupts in the commentary, suffice to say that the film and the history it explores forces the horrors of history to become all too present. We never see those horrors, but we hear them, and incredibly the audio is enough to make you squirm. There’s real tension in the lead up to violence, and the sound design of that violence when it arrives makes it as effective as any blood-splattered screen.

Sometimes the film (the one we’re watching with a narrative story in commentary) matches its visuals to the story, adding even more unease to the story. When we're shown images of dead birds or mammals, it’s effectively upsetting and tone setting, but as the film goes on, some images line-up perfectly with dramatic events in the commentary in a way that distracts from the authenticity of the formal gambit. That said, the moments where images line up perfectly with moments in the audio story for humor, particularly shots of pipes dripping while characters urinate, are very funny.

Razzennest, the “real” film, is amazing on several levels. It not only effectively brings a horrific audio drama into cinema without losing any of the power of its images or its audio-only narrative, but also succeeds in exploring the themes of the far more self-consciously artful film-within-a-film.

There are moments throughout that are not only scary, but also evoke a real sense of pathos for those who lived through the horrors of a 400-year-old war. That the film also manages to be hilarious at several points only adds to how special it is.

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audioAustriahorrorJohannes GrenzfurthnerPanic Fest 2023war

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