HAGAZUSSA (2017) – Psychedelic mushrooms and well-cooked children

Albrun screaming after realizing he ate his daughter

Hagazussa – Some nice info before the review

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is a 2017 film directed by Lukas Feigelfeld, who produced the film as a “final project” of his own studies.

With a strongly folkloric stamp, the film tells the story of Albrun, a woman from the 15th century persecuted as a witch from childhood (hagazussa is a term to indicate, in fact, a witch).

Curiosity: at the beginning of the film a traveler warns our protagonists to go back, because it was starting to get dark and he was afraid of meeting the “Perchta“, a sort of Alpine deity, who if you want to associate with a more familiar figure, could be something like the Befana, an italian folkloristic figure.

Curiosity: the film is divided into four chapters, respectively: Shadows, Horn, Blood, Fire. All written with runic alphabet, here an in-depth analysis: Elder Futhark

Albrun worshiping a skull in his house

Hagazussa: Slow-burning horror movie – but visually beautiful!

Small premise: I chose to watch Hagazussa because it is quite inevitable to read about it and see it associated with The VVitch (2015) by Robert Eggers, which is one of my favorite films. I hope Hagazussa gives me that extra boost to watch The VVitch again and bring it here on Horrornauta, which I care to have.

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is not a movie that I feel can be accessible to everyone. After watching it, I realized that a minimal distraction, a slightly lower attention threshold, would have made me understand nothing about the movie (which already leaves a lot to interpretation and speculation), and I would have inevitably ended up bored and quite irritated by the middle of the film.

It’s a film that proceeds with very, very slow rhythms, in some scenes it exceeds the forced pace, but however, thanks to a soundtrack that takes care to accompany the scenes very well, they are quite pleasant and engaging, without stagnating too much. Few, very few dialogues, but this does not weigh, because the director narrates fantastically also thanks to the images alone.

I want to focus on another thing: the movie is really beautiful, visually, from the snowy, desolate and unsettling mountains, to the dense forests and countryside. In fact, Lukas Feigelfeld, before turning to film, was a photographer, and honestly, you can tell.

Hagazussa film scene, corpse in the swamp with a snake on the body

Between psychosis and witchcraft – Hagazussa leaves a lot of room for the imagination

It is difficult to take a precise position on the “meaning” of Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse. As I have already reported a couple of times, the film certainly does not guide the viewer on what its “only” meaning is, as there is much to discuss and assume.

From an interview with the director, unfortunately very brief and also the only one in English, I heard him say that his intention was to convey how trauma and isolation, as well as the mentality and superstitions of small towns (still existing today) could deteriorate the mind and life of a human being, to truly…weird limits.

I wanted to bring this premise to mark a “fixed point”, what we certainly know from the director, and that is that very likely, there is very little supernatural. Are we facing a BIG psychosis? Likely.

I agree with this “reading key” that Lukas gives us, however, we are often faced with situations that make us quite doubtful, in addition to many things we do not know.

Albrun from the movie hagazussa with a snake on his neck

Theories and interpretations on the meaning of Hagazussa – A Heathen’s Curse (SPOILER!)

Albrun has a daughter, Martha – it is never specified how she got her, whether from a consensual relationship, whether from a rape. The same daughter who for very long periods is left alone at home – this has led some to assume that in reality, the daughter may have died long before the fateful swamp bath. Hypothesis supported by the daughter who refuses to drink from the mother’s breast. However, I am not sure that the state of decomposition can be right, when we see her in the sheet after the swamp bath. This temporal discrepancy, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, as time is not too precisely marked, so it may have happened recently as well.

The scene of the goat and a very ambiguous sexuality – small note on the fact that a goat was chosen as the symbol of Albrun’s strange temptation, since it is an animal often associated with the devil. I read around that according to some Albrun is also attracted to Swinda (the only one who shows her a hint of friendship), the same Swinda who comes to Albrun’s house with a beautiful apple: apple, symbol of temptation.

Swinda on the lawn just before letting Albrun be raped

Curse or plague?

Albrun gets very angry after, of course, she is raped and her goats are killed (it is assumed that this was the moment when Albrun’s daughter died, only the mother does not really process what happened and sees her still alive, perfectly healthy. But why would they leave her alive? …). Anyway, let’s resume. Albrun gets angry, takes a mouse, kills it, throws it in the river and urinates on it: it seems like she is throwing a curse, a magical moment crowned by the blood that comes out of her nose, the pact is made.

Sure … she could have made a pact with the devil to take revenge on Swinda and her rapist (since both of them die), or she could simply have poisoned the river with a diseased mouse, where is the strangeness? We are in the 15th century, the plague is around the corner after all…

Swinda goes to Albrun's house and brings her an apple, a symbol of temptation

The descent into the swamp: the beginning of the rebirth as a witch or did Albrun really take a good mushroom trip?

Well, well. After randomly eating a mushroom, Albrun falls into a deep sleep, wakes up and heads towards this ugly swamp, where she enters with her daughter, in an almost trance-like state. The daughter drowns (or was she already dead ??????????oh god). A series of scenes follow, with blood pumping, heartbeats are heard, Albrun is seen underwater with her eyes open, etc.

According to some, this could be the price to pay for having cast a curse on Swinda & Company. As if Albrun had borrowed power at that moment, paid later with the death of her daughter, which she only realizes once she returns home. Or, it could be a nice mushroom trip, don’t ya think?!.

After making the horrific discovery of her daughter’s death, Albrun (and we) see the pot and then some stripped bones. Did she eat her daughter? In fact, we are not sure. I’ve read around, but I haven’t found reliable sources, that eating one’s own child was, in the past, a sort of “rite,” almost an initiation into witchcraft. Or, yes, exactly, they could have been, again, mushrooms.

So how could we read this in an alternative key? Albrun accepts her own nature as a witch, sealing the thing with a horrible act: eating her daughter (all while still under the influence of mushrooms), a nice idea to alter the scenes to make us see and feel Albrun’s extremely and accelerated feelings

She vomits immediately, hears a male voice laughing (the devil?) and sees and hears her mother (also a witch?). Some see from this moment on, Albrun’s regret, who, still under the effect of mushrooms and hallucinations, flees. Escape that is probably stopped (by whom? by the devil? by the mother?), since we see Albrun first blinded (probably… seen her veiled eyes), and subsequently, we see her die (punished? or reborn?) with self-combustion. Burned, the end of a witch, in the end.

Albrun takes his daughter Martha to the swamp in the woods near his house

Beware of mushrooms and enjoy the show.

I leave you with all these nice ideas that I have read around a bit and deduced on my own. Personally, I feel closer to the psychotic key of interpretation, that is Albrun as a sick fruit of a life that has been very unkind. However, I found it very interesting to read many other assumptions, which made me appreciate the film even more.

Picture of Lorena | Horrornauta.it

Lorena | Horrornauta.it

I like unusual horror, the kind that gets under your skin and scares you because it's realistic. The anxiety of watching something that, all things considered, could easily appear in the real world. Email me at hello@horrornauta.it.

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