Simply put, there is nothing like The Zone of Interest. Jonathan Glazer has created the most haunting, shattering, and breathless film in recent memory. Deliberately horrifying, this is cinema at its most impactful.
The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.
As horrific as The Zone of Interest is, we never see anything. Sure, there are threats of murder (usually Hedwig when in a tantrum to her Jehovah’s Witness servants) or watching the sly smiles of Rudolf and others as they plan for new crematoriums and plans to move Jews around specific camps. But, we never see anything; in fact, we get one brief glimpse of the imprisoned Jewish people of Auschwitz as they are led away in a chain gang, and even then, it is obscured by bushes. No, the horror that Glazer has inflicted upon us is of the audible variety.
Maximillian Behrens has created a world that we can only have nightmares of as a sound editor. Taking everything we knew of what happened in that piece of hell and taking it up another unimaginable level. We hear the dogs, the screams, the cries, the gunshots, the sounds of the chambers beginning their next round of incinerations. So powerful is his work that you can almost imagine seeing it. You could nearly come out of The Zone of Interest and swear you saw those moments. They are so hauntingly visceral in your mind that even days later, they stay there, almost taunting you with their existence.
Yet, that’s the point that Glazer is making. These people have become so used to what they hear and see from the chimneys that it has become banal to them; they wander around their lovely garden and play by the lake with little cares in the world. Throughout The Zone of Interest, Glazer pulls us into this pool of “normality”; we see Höss turn off the lights in his house one by one and become used to the routine.
We only get glimpses of how unnatural what these characters are experiencing when Hedwig’s mother visits. Unlike the rest of the family, she never settles; she is immensely agitated by what she is experiencing. Even early on, when some clothing in a bag comes to the house, it takes a second or two for it to click where that bag came from.
By having us watch the mundane going ons of this family while keeping the true horror just out of shot, Glazer is really forcing us to listen more carefully. We begin to understand what each time of screen may mean from those inside the walls, and somehow, that becomes even more chilling. He is pointedly asking his audience questions about these characters as well. Could we continue the monotonous if this was happening now? Could we even last as long as Hedwig’s mother during her stay at the house? Regardless, each minute of this film leaves an impact on you.
As said at the top of the review, nothing like The Zone of Interest exists. You can draw comparisons here and there, mentioning the Kubrick tones that Glazer illicts throughout the film. But in truth, nothing, nothing will hit you as hard as this film does. It’s horrendously magnificent and unforgettable. Jonathan Glazer hurts you with his film’s unforgiving harshness; through the cinematography, sound, editing and performances, he wants to disorientate you to the point you become numb, like his chosen characters. He succeeds in ways you never imagined.
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