The second annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (Brooklyn, New York), which runs October 12–15, features an amazing array of feature-length and short motion pictures. In this first installment of reviews about some of BHFF’s offerings, I’ll discuss two foreign movies, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse and Veronica.
German/Austrian folk horror offering Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse marvelously blends gorgeous cinematography with harrowing, disturbing content. The result is a hypnotic, dread-filled journey that lingers in the mind long after the film ends. The beginning of the film presents Albrun (played as a child by Celina Peter) and her mother (Claudia Martini), who live in a remote cabin in the Austrian Alps during the 15th century. Suspected by the locals of being witches, they are shunned. The bulk of the film takes place about 20 years after the mother dies, and an adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen in a downright fearless performance) now has a baby of her own. From childhood to the present, a dark, supernatural force seems to hover around Albrun and her cabin, and as local villagers continue to taunt and then physically harm her, she begins to succumb to that dark force — or is this diabolical presence merely in her mind? Writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld’s stunning debut feature is a film school graduation project, but it looks terrific, thanks in part to Mariel Baqueiro’s outstanding camera work and the breathtaking landscape in which Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is set. Feigelfeld’s mise-en-scène absolutely drips with atmosphere, and he disturbs with a calculated, slowly building pace that is both grounded and borderline surreal. The jaw-dropping goat-milking scene early on is a mere warm-up for the outlandish third act, which will test some viewers’ endurance levels despite most of the proceedings happening off screen, using good, old-fashioned cinematic suggestion and letting your mind fill in the disquieting details. Fans of art house and folk horror, as well as aficionados of cutting-edge cinema, are well advised to add Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse to their need-to-see lists.
Black-and-white Mexican mystery drama Veronica has some horror and thriller elements to it. Though it is well acted and directed, and boasts wonderful cinematography by Miguel Angel and Gonzales Avila, it left me at arm’s length as far as getting emotionally wrapped up in its story of a retired psychiatrist (Arcelia Ramirez) and Veronica (Olga Segura), a young woman she takes on as a client as a favor to a fellow colleague. A problem with the film is that much of it wanders through well-tread territory, including a resistant client who tries to turn the tables and question the therapist, analysis of dreams, sexual attraction between the doctor and patient, and a Gaslight sequence in which the doctor and patient have different memories of a certain encounter. Ramirez and Segura play off each other well, which is especially important here, considering that Veronica is pretty much a two-hander movie. Co-directors Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran, working from a screenplay by Algara and Tomas Nepumoceno, spend a good deal of the first act having the psychiatrist and Veronica get to know each other, and it is slow going until puzzle pieces are first revealed. Things then start picking up, leading to a third act that holds enough chills and surprises to warrant — along with the aforementioned positives — giving the film a recommendation.