Film reviews

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse – Review

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse was the directorial debut of Lukas Feigelfeld, who also wrote the film. Initially released in 2018 in Germany, it’s now receiving a wider home release.

Hagazussa follows the life of Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen), a girl living in a remote cabin with her mother. The two of them are outcasts from the local community, and shunned as witches. When Albrun’s mother gets sick she eventually passes away, leaving the child alone to fend for herself. The film then jumps forward to Albrun as a young woman, with a baby of her own. Still living in her mother’s remote cabin, she begins to experience increasingly strange and disturbing events.

In all honesty, I don’t really know how to start talking about Hagazussa. I’d heard a little about the film before I had the chance to see it, and one of those things was that a lot of people felt it was similar in many regards to The Witch by Robert Eggers. I can see why this parallel is drawn: both films centre on people in very isolated, wooded locations in times past, who are struggling with supposed supernatural forces. Both films are slow burns that rely as much on lingering camera shots and sound to build tension as anything else in the story. They’re also both open to interpretation as to what actually happens, whether events are influenced by the paranormal, or if they’re stories of young women abused to breaking point.

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Whilst I enjoyed The Witch and found it to be an interesting film, it didn’t engage me or disturb me in the same way that Hagazussa did. I say engage, but that’s not really accurate. I found it a little hard to stay with the film at times. The story is very slow, and one could argue that a good portion of the movie could be cut down and tightened to give it a better pace, but then I think it would lose a lot of what makes it a creepy experience. The fact that I had to work to stay in the movie, that I had to make myself stay invested did, in retrospect, add something to the experience.

Hagazussa is a story that you don’t want to experience. It’s designed to be offputting and disturbing. You want to turn it off and leave it alone because it gets under your skin. And whilst you have the power to do that, you can just stop, Albrun can’t run away from what’s happening to her. She’s stuck in these experiences, and you feel like you have to stay there with her. The film made me want to run away from it, yet I also wanted to see what would happen to its lead next – a kind of morbid curiosity. I’m not even sure if this could be down to feeling sorry for the character and wanting to see it through to the end to see if things went well for her, because the film never gave the sense that there would be a happy ending.

The very first scenes in the film show Albrun’s childhood, her isolated upbringing with her mother. These scenes are probably the most easily understood and interpreted part of the film, as events seem to play out how they appear. We learn through these scenes that the two women are pretty much hated by others in the local community, and we see the impact this has on Albrun. After her mother’s death things become worse for Albrun, and could be considered one of the leading events in her awful adulthood.

When we next see Albrun as an adult she’s still at her mother’s cabin, having carried on alone from her childhood. She doesn’t interact well with the people in town, and is openly mocked and ridiculed by the local children. She’s isolated within this world and is trying to get by, but events get even worse for her and spiral out of control until the story reaches a conclusion that can only be described as devastating.

I wanted to go into these events in greater detail, and did in my initial draft which was a hell of a lot longer. I talked about how the film had multiple interpretations, and how it messed with the mind, but I can’t do that without talking about the plot to the point of it being a spoiler. Instead, I’ll just say watch it. If you’re even a little intrigued by the film, go and watch it.

The events depicted in Hagasuzza are disturbing and unsettling. The director uses shots and music that adds to those feelings and compounds them. The result is one of the most unsettling pieces of film I think I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I could watch the film again, and I’m not even sure if I could recommend it to others – and if I did it would only be because I know this is the kind of film that they would like. It’s not for everyone, and probably not even for every horror fan, but it is a film worth seeing if you can stand it.

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I was originally thinking this would be a film I’d probably give a three out of five. It was good, but I struggled with it, and wasn’t sure how to take it. But then I started to think about the film more, and realised that just in talking about those feelings and thoughts I’d written more than two thousand words on it. Surely that means the film has had an impact on me. It might not have been an experience that I loved, or one that I’ll ever want to have again, but it’s one that’s had an effect. And isn’t that the real goal of horror, to get under your skin, to make you feel awful? If so, then Hagazussa has more than done what it’s set out to do, and is a film I’m sure I’ll think about for a long while to come.

The new Blu-ray release comes with a bunch of extras, including an audio commentary by film critic and author Kat Ellinger, selected scene commentary by writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld, two short films by the director, and deleted scenes with optional commentary. There’s also a two disc edition that includes the superb and creepy soundtrack. Whilst we weren’t provided with a copy of these extras, after seeing the film I’d be very interested to explore these, and see the director’s short films. The addition of the soundtrack in the two-disc version is also one that I’m considering getting, just for the score alone.

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is out now on Blu-ray and Digital from Arrow Video.

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