Hagazussa – A Heathens Curse is a new film by Austrian director Lukas Feigelfeld. It came to my attention somewhat randomly as the soundtrack by MMMD (Mohammad) was sent in for review. I had never heard of director or musicians but was intrigued and managed to get a digital link of the film sent to me to watch too. The film is simply described as “Paranoia & Superstition in 15th Century Europe,” this sounded right up my street so here is a review of both the movie and the soundtrack.
I listened to the soundtrack several times before getting to watch the film and naturally the soundscapes within made me very keen to see the visual side of things. MMMD are also known as Mohammad and are a duo from Athens in Greece who wear smocks and hats looking very much like they have escaped from some sort of folk horror tale themselves. They dabble in sinister sound manipulations and deep droning low tones that are set to unsettle both your speakers and your bowels. New to me, their sound is self-described as ‘chamber doom’ which strikes as perfectly fitting as it has a near ceremonial feel about it, the sort of sound that bows the listener in reverence to its rumbling passages. The seven tracks that make up this soundtrack repeat motifs and subtle melodies and vary in length from a couple of minutes to almost 10. The opening title track reverberates and has a dark hymnal quality about it that is foreboding and makes one wonder what sinister horrors it can possibly allude to on the screen.
I guess you could listen to this quite happily as a piece of work in its own right but knowing it is a soundtrack you simply have to explore more. Some of the sounds coming out the speakers here literally shake and quake as though the players are attempting to hit that brown note and they come pretty close to succeeding. The funereal touch of subtly orchestrated numbers like ‘Akvo De’ have a classical edge to them and it sounds like ghosts of the past are wrapping their tenebrous fronds around the listener. The sound of strings lingers in the backdrop and the music slowly and lowly washes over you in a fairly calm fashion as it continues to build, relaxing it may be but you know it is also on the edge of invoking terror. Dark ambient throbs slowly pulsate, drawing you in like a moth’s fluttering wings, dark and eldritch sensibilities and images are easy to envisage. Even if the longest segment here is minimalist in approach it highly absorbs and intrigues. I guess with the low tones and the use of strings this could be of interest to fans of acts such as Sunn))) and Dornenreich and at times comes across as a weird synthesis of the two. It also works very well as soundtrack music as far as I am concerned, even though as mentioned I am writing this before watching the film. As darkness descends the time draws near and the apocryphal fear the music has encroached upon me has set me up for something that I really hope is unique and chillingly different.
What a wonderful film! I had noted complaints on certain sites that it was akin to watching paint dry but honestly people who think like that have no right watching art like this and should stick to the latest Hollywood brain-bluster. Hagazussa was everything I kind of expected and more. Sure it is minimalistic in tone and the cast is very small, the film often being carried solely on the back of principle actress Aleksandra Cwen who puts in a remarkable performance. There is very little dialogue and although I was relieved that the digital stream I was sent to view had subtitles you would have easily have got the gist of things without them. Divided into 4 parts Shadows, Horns, Blood and Fire we start in a magnificent snowy canvas on the edge of a great forest where a young girl Albrun (Celina Peter) exists with her mutter (Claudia Martini) in a wood cabin in the midst of the wonder of nature. We get a sense of the time and one could draw in both setting and time period as the film progresses to the likes of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960). It seems the locals are mad and superstitious, one gets the sense of religion and superstition being very prevalent, especially as horn wearing villagers taunt and scare the couple outside their abode with accusations of witchcraft thrown at them. The mother becomes seriously ill and dies, the viewer sees things in the shadows and sounds are distorted, you have to peel off the layers and look deep into the mystery and magic within to truly follow the film.
Spring, Albrun now grown up and played by Cwen is a single mother with baby girl herself. She lives a pastoral existence away from the villagers with her goats and the alpine setting could have you thinking of Heidi if it were not for some scenes of startling bestial eroticism. Despite seclusion one villager befriends her but what are her motives, we are drawn ever deeper into intrigue? Nature provides its own magic and a mushroom trip descends us into the Blood side of things with catastrophic results. The forest breathes, distorts and decays in scenes that are a bit like a medieval version of Lars Van Trier’s wonderful Antichchrist (2009). As for the inevitable fire, that is a hearth that will have to be left unstoked unless you see the film, there is little more regarding the plot that I will unveil than the briefest glimpse and insight into things.
The scenery and accompanying cinematography is absolutely fantastic, lovers of the music that often goes with this site will not get better anywhere, you simply cannot get more black metal in essence than this film. Despite that, such a soundtrack would have ruined it and the one provided by MMMD works in perfect synergy with the visuals bringing the magic to the screen and allowing everything to breathe in a wondrous, spellbinding, subtle caress of the senses. The acting and direction is brilliant and for a first feature length film Fiegelfeld has made a mature and wholly impressionable entrance onto a scene that he surely has the scope to go on and make a real impact on. Not that this film does not deserve to in its own right. This is a true folk-horror tale and although you see that phrase bandied about all over the place Hagazussa really fits the bill. I can see why people have made comparisons to Robert Eggers The Witch (2015) but for me the biggest comparison is that this is probably the most I have enjoyed a recent film since that particular tale first cast its spell over me. Similarly I think I am going to be haunted by the visions Hagazussa has left in my head for some time to come.
Naturally I want, (no need) my own copy of the film and see that there are 2 German editions available although am not sure if English subtitles are included. This is a film that deserves to be seen and hopefully a British company will pick it up, I am sure it will be perfect for a company such as Arrow (who have indeed done so see links below) and will keep fingers crossed but not for too long as I know I need to be bewitched by this heathen curse, all too soon again.