This is a gorgeous film. From winter forests, to soaring mountain peaks under azure skies, to wide-open vistas where one can see for miles, it is a beautiful piece of cinematography.
It is also a deeply disturbing film. Hagazussa deals with some intense subject matter and may not be for everyone. It’s rare that a horror film can touch a naked nerve in me, but this one did. I believe the experience would have been ever more unsettling if I was a woman, coming into the movie with the gender-specific events and conflicts a woman accumulates throughout her life. Motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, insincere friendships, violence, ostracism, and other subjects are themes that wind through the film, and while I can sympathize with many of them, I cannot empathize with them on a level many women can.
Hagazussa is billed as a “gothic fairy tale,” but it’s much more a folk horror story. Albrun is our protagonist, first introduced as a young girl living alone with her mother in an isolated cabin. It is clear from the start that she and her mother are outcasts, considered witches by the local villagers, and treated with scorn rather than fear. The first act builds our sympathy for Albrun, an investment which pays off in ways we may not like later in the film.
The rest of the film concerns an older Albrun as she tries to keep her sanity as an outcast. She does not have it easy, struggling to raise an infant daughter of her own, much like her mother did. Hints of witchcraft appear, but never manifest, leaving the audience to wonder how much is truth and how much is either Albrun’s or our own interpretations of events.
Hagazussa is a horrific movie, but not what many would consider a horror movie. If you’re looking for bloody corpses and monsters in the dark, you’re in for a disappointment. However, if you desire an even deeper psychological examination of isolation (physical and emotional) and its effects of our humanity than found in The Witch, Hagazussa is for you.
The film is a powerful one, but not a movie I’m likely to rewatch again for sometime. It’s power is insidious, and not an experience I’m eager to repeat. Nevertheless, I give the movie a well-deserved three skulls out of four.