It is often said that the true horror is in the unseen. Typically, this refers to the dark: the monster under the bed, the man hiding in the closet, the noises you hear when trying to sleep at night. Rarely, is this principle applied in broad daylight. Yet, Jonathan Glazer’s new film The Zone of Interest does just that.
The film is a domestic drama set in a house boarding Auschwitz and follows the Höss family. The father, Rudolf, is the commandant of Auschwitz who is attempting to manage a tense relationship with his wife Hedwig as they strive to build their dream life. All the while they attempt to blot out the sounds coming from the other side of their garden: the horror unseen.
Glazer is a generational, and very particular, talent. In twenty-four years of filmmaking he has produced just four features, each of which explore different genres and styles. Spike Lee may be known for his dolly shots, Scorsese for his long tracking shots, but Jonathan Glazer? Your guess is as good as mine. In The Zone of Interest he lets the camera sit still, giving us a view of the Höss family more akin to Big Brother than his first feature, Sexy Beast. But perhaps this is exactly what Glazer is trying to achieve; these people were real people and the atrocities they committed were real atrocities. He takes us inside a harrowing world that is, in fact, our world.
This camera work is complimented by a truly astonishing achievement in sound design. Alongside the perpetual hum of machinery, gunshots, and muffled cries are moments in which Glazer stops entirely over a single image, forcing you to try and blot out the increasingly protruding soundscape, just as Hedwig Höss does. It is perhaps the most disturbing experience anyone could have in a theatre, and that is exactly how it should be.