In a wooden hut deep in the Alps, Albrun and her mother hide themselves from the dark and from the other villagers; trudging through the snow and collecting sticks by day to feed their fire and warm their gruel, they are shunned, heathens. A woman alone with a child, she is called a witch, and nothing else matters.
Falling ill, her body examined unsympathetically, Albrun’s mother displays signs which could be cancer, could be plague, or could be the sign of the Devil upon her; left to care for her mother, when she dies, Albrun is alone with the clouds and the sky and the mountains and her goats, and the continuing hatred of the villagers.
The boys now calling her witch, the priest telling her that her path is paved with suffering and pain, Albrun’s only contact is with Swinda, seemingly her friend, but who will ultimately betray her, and embracing the charge laid upon her Albrun will avenge herself cruelly on Swinda and her husband and the other villagers regardless of the cost to herself.
The feature directorial debut of Lukas Feigelfeld which takes its name from the Old High German for witch, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse has travelled as slowly as the creeping dread and despair from which it was birthed, premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas in September 2017 before touring the festival circuit and only now receiving official British release on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films.
Set in the fifteenth century, it is built around fear and superstition, Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) isolated and misunderstood, the dialogue sparse and the story told almost entirely through the images of flickering candlelight and decorated skulls, of twisted branches and gnarled roots, of carpets of moss infested with maggots, of the waters of the lake tainted and grown sickly, and the pacing is of elegiac imagery rather than urgency.
Offering no comfort or respite, the soundtrack by Grecian low-frequency doom duo MMMD is a drone of anguish which persists and permeates the decay and gloom as Albrun succumbs to what may have been her destiny all along, a single secret smile offered to the flame as she accepts and embraces the inevitability of the curse inherited from her mother (Claudia Martini).
The disc featuring a full-length commentary by critic Kat Ellinger, she offers insight into the realm of folk horror and Hagazussa’s place within it, closer in style and intent to November than the frequent comparisons with The Witch, Robert Eggers’ more widely known work, while Feigelfeld’s commentary is limited to specific key scenes but clarifies much of the ambiguity of his film, closing the circle as nature and madness overwhelm Albrun.
Also included is a deleted scene from near the end of the film, the only hint of redemption which was cut as being out of tone, two of Feigelfeld’s earlier (not so) short films, a masculine examination of loneliness in 2014’s Interferenz and 2011’s Beton as Feigelfeld himself stars as a youth causing trouble for himself and others in Vienna, an MMMD music video and their full soundtrack for Hagazussa on a second disc.