Having recently watched director Johannes Grenzfurthner’s outstanding depiction of lonely frenzy, Masking Threshold, I was quite looking forward to Razzennest. Masking Threshold’s brilliance lies in its employing minimalist ingredients—dialogue, detailed images, and sound—to conjure a maximalist descent into madness. Razzennest is trademark Grenzfurthner.
We get shot after shot focused on objects—mostly crucifixes—along with mold, slime, fields of wild grass, and assorted symbols of derelict in rural Austria. If it helps, think of the Zone in Tarkovsky’s Stalker without a shot of a single human figure coupled with a running meta-commentary/plot and you have Razzennest. Grenzfurthner uses the already cliché found footage schtick and injects comedy and meta/alienation techniques which result in what I can best describe as Brechtian horror. Razzennest is the macabre humor of the court jester.
The story takes place in a recording studio. As a documentary titled “Razzennest” runs on our screens, we hear the voices of several characters engaged in an audio commentary of the film. Babette is an enthusiastic Rotten Tomatoes Approved critic interviewing “Razzennest” director Manus Oosthuizen along with his publicist, Ellen, and his DP, Hetti. We also hear the voice of the sound engineer, Pat, who’s intonation is the unctuous one affected by American radio DJs and local news anchors. Grenzfurthner effectively uses dialogue and even accents to create archetypes that serve his comedic ends.
Babette is the uninformed but politically correct American. Manus is the uber-pretentious filmmaker who pedantically corrects the pronunciation of non-German speakers. Ellen only speaks one language–Public Relations. Pat’s attempts at soothing every little problem with his smarmy intonation makes him quite the creep. And finally, there’s the unpretentious and pragmatic Hetti. Razzennest truly starts when Hetti begins vomiting. The sound of his vomit splashing on the floor is disgusting and brilliant at the same time. It is disgusting in the sense that we hear very detailed retching and splashing, and brilliant in that mere sounds, when done with such sophistication, can inspire such disgust in the viewer’s imagination without any visuals. Grenzfurthner is truly a master at using sound to craft imagery and story. Alec Empire’s eerie score also serves to create a dark oppressive mood.
But it is the sound of vomit that signals that things are not right here. “Razzennest” is a documentary composed purely of images. Those images are supposed to have some connection, in director Manus Oosthuizen’s mind, to The Thirty Years’ War. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that spirits involved in said war begin invading the studio. As things begin unravelling, Oosthuizen’s pretensions fade, and his crassness becomes evident.
Razzennest’s merits are worthy of mention. There’s an irreverent quality in Grenzfurthner that is very admirable. Here is a filmmaker that is willing to take risks and is not scared to faceplant if those risks fail. The commentary on American exceptionalism/naivete, political correctness, and artistic pretentiousness really hit the mark comedically and in terms of social commentary. Grenzfurthner’s potshots at luminaries such as Malick, Aster, and Eggers are endearingly punkish—a quality you want your indie directors to possess. However, several of the jokes in the film are bland and have no edge.
Also, the voiceover work and the character dialogue often feel stilted. If one can put aside those issues, Razzennest takes more risks, is more erudite, and is simply better than the majority of indie horror out there.
Razzennest is Wisconsin Death Trip if that film took place in the strange interzone of a studio in Echo Park, California and Rohrwald, Austria, mixed with Anselm Kiefer visuals, with added dashes of comedy—expect mentions of Nutella juxtaposed to shots of feces. If all that sounds like your kind of death trip, then turn off the lights, and enjoy Razzennest.
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