Fantastic Fest 2022: “Razzennest”

Razzennest is a haunting, dizzying horror film that morphs from film-inside snark and pretentious imagery into something legitimately bizarre and terrifying.

While the screen is packed with Catholic imagery and seemingly endless shots of forests and dead trees, the real action is happening on the soundtrack. The viewer finds themself present at the recording of a commentary track for the film we are seeing. Babette, the clueless and perky moderator (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh) is joined by the film’s producer, camera operator, and director Manus Oosthuizen (Michael Smulik). Oosthuizen is a pretentious self-promoter, who never fails to take digs at other directors of arthouse films. “I’m not fucking Terence Malick,” Oosthuizen says. “I take my job seriously.”

The film’s central subject is the Thirty Years War, in which Catholics and Protestants battled each other across central Europe in a quest for religious supremacy. As the tension between the production team comes to the surface, so do the after-effects of that conflict in unexpected and grotesque ways.

The audience sees none of this. We are watching the documentary footage of Razzennest while listening intently to the recording of a Blu-ray special feature that, in real life, many viewers would never access. It is an audacious concept for a film, and the film’s actual director, Johannes Grenzfurthner, skillfully realizes the idea.

Razzennest functions like a recipe one has never made before. Disparate elements are laid out at the beginning. One cannot possibly imagine how all of the ingredients could come together as a cohesive unit and become some kind of treat. By the time Razzennest screeches to its conclusion, the imagery and the voices on the soundtrack have coalesced into a movie designed to induce breathlessness.

This is not a film you can breeze your way through. It requires you to listen intently while the filmed aspects wash over you until you are forced to make the audiovisual connections Razzennest demands. While viewers may chuckle at the film’s self-referential nature, going so far as to mention its own premiere at Fantastic Fest, the laughter fades quickly.

Towards the end of the first act of Razzennest, director Manus Oosthuizen addresses the minimalism of the movie’s aesthetic by saying, “I refuse to show the thing I want to address.” That’s a fair cop, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear about it. And when the visuals begin to sync up with the audio, that statement is proven incorrect. Hours later, when you’re mentally debating Catholicism, Protestantism, witchcraft, the intimate powers of both photography and imagination, and the incredible violence people are capable of inflicting upon each other, you’ll think of Razzennest.

Surreal, satiric, and spiky, Razzennest is one of the best things I’ve seen all year. You may be thinking about it for a while.

Razzennest premiered at the 2022 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, as part of the Burnt Ends selection block.

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