Shot by writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld as his graduation project from Deutsche Film-und Fernsehakademie Berlin, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse has been touring the festival circuit for a while now. Indeed I first saw it as part of The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival in 2017. Now, a few days ahead of its US release I had a chance to revisit it.
Set in the Austrian Alps during the 15th-century Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is a beautifully shot piece of folk horror. While it’s been compared to the likes of The Wicker Man and, of course, The Witch it really is its own film with a distinctly European heritage and flavor. Alone since the death of her mother, Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) is branded a witch, shunned and outright bullied by the villagers. Finally pushed beyond her limits she uses the powers the villagers claim she possesses to take revenge.
The emphasis here is on the visual. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is short on dialogue, and tells much of its tale visually. The lack of talk and expository dialogue helps the film keep its sense of mystery. And it has plenty of mystery. The identity of the father of Albrun’s child for one. There’s certainly no other evidence of there ever being a man in her life.
The main question is, of course, how much of what we’re seeing is real? Especially in the film’s last act. The villagers believe the plague spreading across the region was brought by the Jews and that witches are real. It wouldn’t take much to create mass hysteria. Have the years of solitude, abuse, and a final betrayal drove Albrun mad?
Or is she what they claim she is? Hagazussa is an Old High German term for a woman who could straddle the worlds of men and spirits. It’s also the source for the word hag. Does she indeed straddle those worlds?
Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse doesn’t give any easy answers. It doesn’t give many answers at all actually, it’s up to the viewer to interpret what they see. If you liked The Witch and similar films you’ll probably like this too. If you found it slow and dull, you may want to avoid this as well.
Doppelganger Releasing will open the film in theaters April 19th and on DVD and VOD April 23rd.