The Humanization of Evil
In 15th Century Austria, a woman takes cares of her young daughter, Albrun, in a cabin in the Alps. The two suffer regular harassment from nearby villagers, but generally seem to have a safe and happy life together. One winter day, the mother collapses in the snow and some doctors are called. They discover that she has the plague and quickly disperse, leaving Albrun to care for her mother alone until the inevitable horrible death. Years later, Albrun has her own cabin alone in the woods, and cares for a newborn. She again suffers harassment from some nearby villagers, but one kind woman and the spooky local priest reach out to her. To say any more wouldn’t be fair to the movie as a narrative or concept but the plot only matters insomuch as it drives gorgeous and methodical exploration of character.
“Hagazussa” is an atmospheric tone poem and though horrifying in its own way, director Lukas Feigelfeld aims first to give us a portrait of a woman. Filmed with loving artistry and sadistic commitment, this is a vivid fable with clear disinterest in popular acceptance. It touches explicitly on every dark implication of Witchery in Medieval Europe, yet it remains steadfastly sympathetic to its heathen. Feigelfeld turned this thing in as a graduation film.
Sound is vital to this picture, and though dialogue is limited, Feigelfeld uses meticulous sound mixing to pull the audience into his characters’ world. W ordless interaction is more revealing than pages of dialogue.
We see long, lingering shots of dead or eviscerated animals, human suffering, bodily decay, and there are disturbing. This 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.
Time goes on, and the mother dies 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 own lives. The daughter believes she has made a friend and 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 begins a furious but quiet vengeance that takes out her tormentors.
“Hagazussa” is hard to review since it has little dialogue and little plot structure. We remain in an abstract void as visceral and unforgiving terrors happen. It’s a hard watch that is photographed beautifully. There is beauty to behold in these little deaths.