Aural horror is a shiny new medium. Razzennest is a multi-layered film by Austrian director Johannes Grenzfurthner. The film is a work of experimental cinema that takes the idea of behind-the-scenes commentary and applies it to the genre of arthouse horror.
The film follows an audio commentary on a documentary film by a fictionalized director called Manus Oosthuizen (Michael Smulik). He meets with Rotten Tomatoes film critic Babette Cruickshank (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh) in an Echo Park studio to discuss his latest documentary film, compiled with images representing the horrors of the Thirty Years War. An ill-informed film critic, Babette fails to identify basic information about the film correctly. She represents the oblivious or inattentive analyst. Their session goes awry when Oosthuizen becomes increasingly volatile and overly concerned with his avant-garde, obscure film.
Although the audio commentary concept was interesting, it failed to captivate. There are moments of interest during the ebb and flow of outbursts of artistic passion and when Oosthuizen becomes self-absorbed, ranting about hidden meanings that the critic glazes over or misses. He is a rendering of the self-obsessed artist who experiences unnecessary anger at those who fail to understand his work. He also gets upset when someone doesn't value his artistic perspective. Could this be a commentary on an artist’s unchecked ego? If so, it excels in that department. The obsessive artist who lacks emotional control is a frightening concept to dive into.
Grenzfurthner gives us another fresh perspective on horror without gore. Oosthuizen's inflated ego is fueled by his obsessive artistic vision, where he places himself on a pedestal. The dynamic character interaction between Babette and the self-assured interviewee provides insight into the contemporary entertainment business. The escalating tension between an artist and an interviewer, set against synchronized images, mirrors the auditory tension. Oosthuizen attempts to discuss the evils and conflicts of Europe's devastating Thirty Years War but acts irrationally as the questions continue. Admittedly, it’s a fresh direction in horror filmmaking because it's a multi-dimensional sensory experience. Still, it misses the mark with its lack of visual narrative to keep audiences engaged.
Razzennest's imagery is intriguing with its desolate images of abandoned locations, religious symbolism, and bleak landscapes, but unsatisfactory voiceovers taint them. The lack of visual narrative or structure makes the film merely chaotic captured audio. There is a disconnect between the historical, eerie, meaningful images and the conversation. Serious, somber images assault the screen and are effective, but the overplayed voices spoil their effect. Nonetheless, the synchronicity of images and escalation of conversation pair well concerning the increasing intensity. As the discussion progresses, images of death and religion appear. This pairing of an auditory experience with conceptual images works, but a more weighty voiceover or visual narrative would be more engrossing.
While the concept is fresh, it isn’t well executed, causing a lack of engagement visually and aurally. The content of the conversation was sometimes hilarious and disturbing but didn't terrify or enthrall. Grenzfurthner’s avant-garde approach may be too offbeat for some. Still, for those who enjoy obscure, satirical work, Razzennest works perfectly and should be applauded for its creativity and innovative direction. The film is an enigmatic arthouse horror experience.