Let’s hide in the woods.
Hagazussa seems to have been stuck in a bit of a development hell as it released at festivals in 2017, but only recently came to international audiences. It would have been interesting to see this film more widely released at the same time The VVitch was making a splash.
However, it might be best that the two are separate, as VVitch is simply the better of the two films. Unfortunately, the comparisons are so apparent that it is hard to not think of the other. Another thing against Hagazussa is that VVitch is simply the better film.
We follow Albrun as she is isolated with her mother from the village proper. It becomes clear quite quickly that Albrun’s mother is quite ill and dies amidst some odd occult imagery. The film transitions to Albrun as an adult, still isolated, and being preyed upon by wicked people who think she is a witch. As things continue to escalate Albrun begins to fight back.
The premise is fine, and any film in a snowy forest with witches is something that I will be drawn to, but it doesn’t work here. The story doesn’t propel itself enough to keep us engaged and calling this is a slow burn is an understatement—more like a glacial burn.
I find myself surprised I didn’t like it, honestly. This is the sort of film that I tend to like. It looks fantastic—the directing and cinematography are simply marvelous. The acting is solid, but this is where the positive notes end. We are given an obnoxious electric guitar overtone for much of the film (that takes place in the flipping 16th century), and every time that noise came on it sucked me right out of the film. Music in movies is something that I have railed against before, and this is one of the worst for breaking the scenes.
Aside from an annoying score, we also have a major subtitle issue present. I’m going to take a leap of faith here and assume something was lost in translation as several moments don’t make any sense. Further, (at least on my computer) the subtitles would hangover until something else happened, which meant I could have *mother breathing* on the screen for a good 4-5 minutes before the next bit of dialogue. The timing also seemed off on arrival and removal of subtitles during dialogue, which once again broke the spell of the film. While this is likely not the fault of director or crew, it does impact the viewing experience in a negative way.
Aside from the technical issues, the story isn’t that compelling. Viewers will potentially grow tired of watching Albrun move around her lodge as we wait for something more impactful to occur. It is hard to suggest this film when a vastly superior (albeit American not German) folktale has released in the recent past.
I may be in the minority here, but this is a film that has an idea and chooses to slowly tread towards it instead of doing anything interesting. The fact that this appears to have been stuck in development hell for so long indicates that the director’s vision may have not quite made the final product. It looks great—and Lukas Feigelfeld might be worth watching, but this one doesn’t deliver on a story level.
Note: You may have noticed this review seemed a little vague. I waited a couple days to write this review, in part hoping it would grow on me. Waiting had the opposite effect, I remember certain shots, but no scenes. The story wasn’t memorable for me at all. I do think it is a gorgeous film but can’t recommend it widely.