Hagazussa (Lukas Feigelfeld, 2019). An oily stew of a movie that has some aromas familiar from Robert Eggers’s The Witch, this German horror film is set in the verdant, unforgiving mountain in the fifteenth century. An odd, withdrawn woman named Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) is a single mother living in relative isolation, her few encounters with others usually mired in misery. An overture of kindness gives her a touch of hope, but darkness looms. Director Lukas Feigelfeld crafts visuals that are equal parts lovely and unsettling, developing intensity out of restraint. The film’s nightmare escalating luridness continually escalates, eventually approaching the conceptual cataclysm of mother!, without the silk scarf pretension that sunk Darren Anofsky’s film. (Although Hagazussa didn’t arrive in U.S. theaters until earlier this year, it was released in Germany as roughly the same time mother! hit.) There are satisfying elements, including the film’s daring, but the characterizations are ultimately too thin, making the finished product feel like an experiment more than a properly realized piece of cinematic art.
The Whip Hand (William Cameron Menzies, 1951). This B-movie from RKO exploits post-war anxiety over both the mounting Communist threat and the scattered remnants of Nazi evil. A magazine reporter (Elliott Reid) is on a fishing vacation in Northern Wisconsin when he stumbles upon a town where the locals are leery of strangers and generally edgy. As he snoops around, he begins to suss out a troubling conspiracy. The storytelling is leaden, and William Cameron Menzies stages the drama with a tottering ineptness that makes it seem as though he was afforded only one rushed take per scene. The Whip Hand has the makings of a scrappy, rambunctious thriller, but there’s no energy to it. Even allowing for the built-in restraints of the era, the movie is a clunker.
Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2019). Remaking his own 2013 film, Sebastián Lelio traces the experiences of a middle-aged woman named Gloria (Julianne Moore) as she tries to grab ahold of a little bit of happiness. The storytelling is sometimes too fragmentary, giving fleeting moments that same weight as more complex, dramatically scenes. That’s a familiar approach in independent film, and it often works well. With Gloria Bell, the balance is thrown out of whack, mostly because the briefer pieces don’t feel like they’re adding up to anything. They’re instead diversions from more fully realized segments, such as a dinner party where a flurry of interpersonal issues encroach. The film’s main strength is the performance of Moore in the title role. She finds the wounded dignity of Gloria and uses the subtlest emotional gestures to show how the character achingly strives to heal herself, finding solace in the small pleasures she accumulates.