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The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | ‘The Zone of Interest’ is a hypnotically horrifying depiction of evil

Jonathan Glazer’s new Oscar-nominated film is an impressively innovative work.
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Director Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” is a haunting and hypnotic meditation on evil. It is a forceful and deeply impactful work, but the heavy subject matter may not be for everyone.

Adapted from the 2014 novel with the same name, written by Martin Amis, and now nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, “The Zone of Interest” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Based on a true story, the film follows Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, as he tries to build a comfortable home for his family on the outskirts of the concentration camp.

Within the opening minutes of the film, it became clear Glazer was aware of the weight of the film’s material. Before any image was shown, a swell of music filled the theater.

Lasting a few minutes, this soundscape was a fascinating way to open the film. The hum of horns, chattering of distant dialogue, and overwhelming volume of noise prepared the audience for the somber feel of the movie.

The film moved at a creeping pace, with certain scenes lingering just long enough to feel like something could emerge from the many shadows that lurk in the backgrounds of the film. Even though it is not a horror film, it was built like one — I was unnerved for nearly the entire runtime.

The Höss family lives just on the other side of the fence from one of the worst atrocities in human history. Yet the Höss’, led by matriarch Hedwig Höss, played tactfully by Academy Award nominee Sandra Hüller, went about their posh lives without a care.

Glazer eases the audience into the dread that hovers over the film just as the plumes of ash emitted from the Auschwitz smokestacks loom over Hedwig’s pristine garden. Each scene in these early minutes of the film builds on the evil of the last until the film is drenched in expertly photographed imagery of some of the most disturbing portraits I’ve seen on film.

A particularly sickening scene plays out in the backyard of the Höss residence. Rudolf, played with impressive apathy by Christian Friedel, looks on as the German children enjoy his swimming pool while a train of prisoners passes by in the background.

Even though images like this are constant throughout, the dread is never redundant. It doesn’t take long for it to become clear what the film is about, yet the film trudges on at a consistent, trance-like pace.

The sparing use of score emphasizes the despair at the core of the film. Whenever music is used, it is to punctuate a particularly haunting moment. The Oscar-nominated sound design is some of the most innovative in years.

A low hum occasionally interrupted by distant shouts and gunshots plays  under the entire film, constantly in the background of the lives of the Höss family. This constant reminder of the horrors just beyond their view makes the family’s complicity infuriating.

Every scene of tragedy and gloom builds toward the astounding final moments which, to reveal as little as possible, depict the central questions of the work succinctly. I will not be able to get the final few images of Glazer’s film out of my head for days.

“The Zone of Interest” is now playing at FilmScene.

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About the Contributor
Charlie Hickman
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.