A slow-burn of a horror film that simmers gently throughout, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is an acquired taste, though one that’s intricately crafted and revels in the atmosphere it creates.

A debut for writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld, the film is very precisely constructed, each scene intended to increase a sense of ominous dread that creeps its way into the first frame and only leaves once the credits start to roll. Feigelfeld is amazing at generating atmosphere, and a lot of the film’s power comes from its quieter moments that do just that. It is is packed with breathtaking shots of expansive mountainous landscapes, yet these are made to feel claustrophobic and dread inducing, thanks in part to the ominous soundtrack, which never settles for a moment, and the striking visuals, particularly the all-encompassing mist that regularly hugs the trees. This is a film that revels in its setting, and rightly so, because its beauty makes the film all the more eerie.

Hagazussa tells the story of a girl named Albrun who lives in the Alps in the 15th century. Played by Celina Peter as a child and by Aleksandra Cwen as an adult, Albrun’s life amidst the mountains is a hard one, ostracised by the locals with only her animals for company. Disturbing moments dot Albrun’s life and they remain persistent throughout, kept deliberately mundane enough to be believable amidst the setting. The horror here is extracted through understatement as each moment serves to add to the unease, exacerbate the tension and feel evermore disturbing.

This can lead the film to feel a little disparate and detached at times, such is its commitment to atmosphere, but it explores extremely dark themes with nuance in mind, seeking a deliberate sense of detachment to achieve a dreamlike quality that blurs the line between what is real and what is metaphor. This commitment to allegory and refusal of simplicity can prove frustrating, but for fans of arthouse horror there is a lot to be found in Hagazussa to make it worthwhile. It champions that brand of indie, moody horror that doesn’t require jump scares to unsettle, but rather aims for a subtle yet often brutal deconstruction of what it means to be prejudiced and cruel, and how people can hold on to their misconceptions and judgements for the sake of ostracising others and making them feel subhuman. When the film shines a light on the true dark side of humanity, the horror it reflects is a truly effective one.

Sometimes though, that isn’t quite as clear, and in these moments it teeters slightly too close to feeling like there may not be quite enough to grab on to in order to justify its feature length runtime, but overall there is plenty to be appreciated, from the understated but powerful performances to the score and the cinematography. It is the slowest of slow burns, but one that offers plenty of rewards along the way, narratively and otherwise.

Dir: Lukas Feigelfeld

Scr: Lukas Feigelfeld

Cast: Aleksandra Cwen, Celina Peter, Claudia Martini, Tanja Petrovsky, Haymon Maria Buttinger, Killian Abeltshauser

Prd: Lukas Feigelfeld, Simon Lubinski

DOP: Mariel Baqueiro

Music: MMMD

Country: Germany/Austria

Year: 2017

Run time: 102 mins

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is available on limited edition Blu-Ray on May 11th, 2020