HAGAZUSSA – A HEATHEN’S CURSE
Director: Lukas Feigelfeld
Writer: Lukas Feigelfeld
Producer: Simon Lubinski, Lukas Feigelfeld
Cast: Aleksandra Cwen, Celina Peter, Claudia Martini
Genre: Horror | Drama • Year: 2017 • Country: Germany | Austria • Running Time: 102 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Image: Colour • Language: German
Back in 2015, writer-director Robbert Eggers took the festival circuit by storm with his eerie directorial debut, The Witch, an atmospheric, Lovecraftian horror centred around a Puritan plantation family in mid-17th century New England.
Two years later, now comes the turn of writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld with his equally atmospheric directorial debut (and film school graduation project), Hagazussa – A Heathen’s Curse, a similarly themed, slow-burning horror unfolding some two centuries earlier in a bleak, rural landscape in the heart of the Austrian Alps.
Like The Witch, Hagazussa is undeniably well crafted and impeccably designed, but in his hypnotic, abstract approach, Feigelfeld meanders off course a touch too much as the narrative progresses, loosening the grasp on what initially establishes itself as a visceral and compelling period horror.
At the centre of the film is Albrun, a young goatherd left alone in her desolate mountain hut when her mother is struck by a traumatic and fatal illness. Fifteen years on, and now with a child of her own, she finds herself threatened by a dark and persistent presence. The line between fantasy and reality slowly begins to blur but is the malevolence genuine or merely a product of her own isolation and psychosis?
The period in which Feigelfeld sets his tale is certainly a strange and fascinating one; one where pagan beliefs spread fear into the hearts and minds of the numerous rural communities across the land, playing on their superstitions and delusions with folklore of witches said to roam the woods at the time.
Feigelfeld’s primary aim is to dissect the mind of his central character and explore the impact that ostracism and torment might have on her psyche, and in that he does succeed. Though extremely hard working, and sadly traumatised by past events, Albrun is just the sort of person the locals would have branded as a witch (and potentially prosecuted), and though the film does conjure a very personal and intimate sense, it could afford to delve deeper into her troubled mind and rein in the lyricism that puts distance between character and viewer.
Cinematographer Mariel Baqueiro does a superb job in only his second feature film, working closely with Feigelfeld (a former photography graduate) and the design team to conjure a unnerving stillness and supernatural tone; an atmosphere and soundscape that essentially drives the film.
Despite some issues with pacing and tonal balance, Hagazussa remains a strong and impressive debut from Feigelfeld, let’s not take that away, and the craft and vision he demonstrates is surely a promise of great things to come.
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