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Panic Fest 2023: Razzennest

For many of us, our first real taste of horror came in the form of the Halloween specials, parodies, and such-like of our favorite sitcoms and kids’ shows. One of my favorite examples, purely for how genuinely atmospheric and scary it manages to be, is one episode of the British radio comedy Down the Line, a parody of radio phone-in discussion programs about which BBC Radio 4 received many complaints from listeners who took the inane observations of its “callers” as genuine. The series two episode in which host Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) invites callers to phone in with their stories of ghostly encounters takes a very well-handled turn for the legitimately chilling. When the lights go out in the studio, Gary loses contact with his producer and begins hearing sinister sounds over the headphones. It’s a miniature masterpiece of horror that Thomas’s performance sells fantastically.

I bring this up here because it was never far from my mind while watching Razzennest, the new feature film from director Johannes Grenzfurthner. The film takes the form of an audio commentary recording session where podcaster and film critic Babette (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh) is attempting to interview the crew of Manus Oosthuizen’s (Michael Smulik) new film Razzennest, a documentary about the 30-year war in 17th century Austria. This film is all we ever see onscreen, and consists almost entirely of shots of the Austrian countryside, which we are told were recorded over three days by cameraman Hetti (Roland Gratzer) under vague instruction from Manus to “capture the dead spirits of the land.” This, we gradually learn, he succeeded in doing, as he and the sound engineer are eventually possessed by the spirits of marauding soldiers. It’s a really good idea for a movie, a strong pitch. However, once you really think about the practicalities of it, there are some fairly obvious issues to be faced with and it would be charitable to say that Razzennest found especially elegant solutions to them.

Still from Razzennest courtesy of Fantasy Fest

To begin with the positive, as the film does, the first half is great fun. Manus is an insufferable ass, a remorseless parody of a stuck-up precious art-house auteur, a sexist, condescending holier-than-thou buffoon who Smulik plays phenomenally. Babette is initially intimidated by him, and their dynamic of her not quite getting his film and him jumping down her throat for not seeing the intentions he deliberately obscured is amusing for a while. Where the movie really takes off is upon the arrival of Hetti, who knows Manus better and is through indulging his laziness and pretension.  It’s a brutal assault on slow-paced art films and the high-brow audiences who eat up their drudgery or look down on films that are in any way fun. The film does raise appropriate questions about genre films and their habit of exploiting and exhibiting violence, which the film posits a way around by having all its action take place in audio only.

As cathartic as the film’s assault on art house films may be, it’s certainly uncharitable and pretty shallow, to tell the truth. It doesn’t really manage to dig very deep and nail these circles for what’s really wrong with them. The film’s swipes in the opposite direction at vain youngsters with short attention spans don’t him much harder either, but still, it’s an entertaining vision to indulge and for a while, it’s riotously funny. Sadly though, it’s once the horror element to the film starts to materialize that my patience for it began to disappear. That’s not something you should ever really be saying about a horror movie, that once the build-up is over it goes off the boil, but there’s a long lineage of horror movies that knew where to start and not where to go.

Once we get into the second half and things are really happening in the room, things we’re not seeing, the approach of having us see only the documentary unfolding onscreen becomes more frustrating than such a gimmick should be. It feels like it’s outlived to the point where it’s serving the story comedically and is instead just something they’ve committed to and has to stick with. There are a few moments where the onscreen footage echoes what’s happening in a sort of funny way, but it doesn’t feel like this idea particularly goes anywhere. They could’ve done a lot more with that idea, with the clips onscreen reflecting events or even contrasting them humorously, but sadly this isn’t taken very far.

Razzennest‘s actual plot is fairly basic and combined with the unengaging visuals, what’s going on isn’t tremendously engaging or even all that easy to make out a lot of the time with the film frequently butting against the limits of its own chosen form. Discussing the events of the second half in detail is obviously something I’m going to avoid, but I will say that the biggest issue with the film is that it has aspects to it that are so exceptionally dark that they clash extremely poorly with the general comedic tone. The film might be trying to get you to squirm and cringe, but I wouldn’t say it succeeds in a good way.

Another British situation comedy this put me in mind of is the Inside No. 9 episode “The Devil at Christmas,” also a horror spoof revolving around the audio commentary for a fictional horror movie. That also sucks because of the same tonal issues, but it does at least run a more appropriate length and have something onscreen that wasn’t chosen to appear as dull as possible. I think Razzennest had a tonne of potential, it’s an intriguing concept that if executed properly could’ve been excellent, but in its current form, it’s pulled apart by too many conflicting priorities. Its attempts to be funny and its attempts to be disturbing work against one another and it paints itself into a corner with its stylistic approach.

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Written by Hal Kitchen

Primarily a reviewer of music and films, Hal Kitchen studied at the University of Kent where they graduated with distinction in both Liberal Arts BA and Film MA, specializing in film, gender theory, and cultural studies. Whilst at Kent they were the Film & TV sub-editor and later Culture Editor of the campus newspaper InQuire and began a public blog on their Letterboxd account. Hal joined 25YearsLaterSite as a volunteer writer in May 2020 and resumed their current role of assistant film editor in November 2020.

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