Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Zone of Interest: contextual horror

I watched this movie on a flight from San Diego to New York. It was listed under "new releases" next to the new musical version of "Mean Girls" - a very curious selection of titles, if you ask me. "The Zone of Interest" is not a film you can jump into without knowing the historical context. You almost need to watch 5-6 movies on the topic to fully appreciate the horror behind the scenes - "Schindler's List" and "Conspiracy" 2001 come to mind. "The Zone of Interest" is not a horror film that speaks for itself. There is nothing truly gruesome happening on the screen. No battles, no graphic genocide scenes. On the contrary, we see a big nuclear family enjoying an idyllic life in a countryside house. There is nothing immediately disturbing or remarkable. The horror is all in the context. The house is situated in an area around the Auschwitz concentration camp reserved for the SS. Before the war the land was used by Polish farmers. In 1941 the local population was removed from the area and their lands confiscated for the benefit of the SS. The doting father of the family turns out to be Rudolf Hoss, the camp commandant, who was executed after the war. Again, at a first glance, there is nothing inherently monstrous about him. Most films portray SS officers in the act of committing atrocities. This film shows a distressingly, freakishly human side of the monster. He plays with his kids, discusses household matters with his frumpy wife, even cheats on her in a most mechanical, emotionless manner - basically goes through the typical motions a man of his rank might go through. Nothing truly monstrous on the surface. Until you hear his name and learn the historical context. 

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