You’ve never heard this one before. You’ve seen it. If you do enough festival circuits, you’ve seen some kind of ponderous elegiac documentary footage attached to some sort of meandering faux narrative. Microbudget filmmaking is full of those. Microbudget filmmaking also has nothing like this.
A multilayered cinematic experiment, the name Razzennest almost feels like a taunt. Are you willing to go deep enough and see what this weirdly titled film is about? Be brave. When the email says it’s included in Burnt Ends, a Fantastic Fest selection devoted to “microbudget genre experiments whose aesthetics and sensibilities provoke or defy mainstream conventions,” the appeal is undeniable.
Sure, it defies any classification. But then the email keeps going, saying it’s a “horror-satire-drama-ghost-story-film,” and either your eyes glaze over or they’re filled with the spark of excitement over finding something possibly new and undiscovered. Indeed, Razzennest is something different that hasn’t been done before.
There are several threads of movies it could have been in there. As those genre definitions go, it could have fit tidily into one of those categories at various points of the project. Yet, it’s more. So much more.
The film begins and I scramble back to look over the press notes. Did they send a commentary track instead of the movie? No. The commentary is the movie. It is one of the several movies inside the movie. The sarcastic banter session, unfolding between enfant terrible South African artist Manus Oosthuizen (voiced by Michael Smulik) and Rotten Tomatoes-approved indie film critic Babette Cruickshank (voiced by Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh). Add the direction by Johannes Grenzfurthner and you have the best spread of character/crew names of any film.
It’s this oddity, outsider spirit that informs the shape of Razzennest. Our in-film critic’s first job is to totally butcher the title. Quickly the conversation gives way to comedy. After a few minutes, you realize that the form is really baked in here. This informal approach to layering comedy over deadly serious filmmaking is a hilarious one. It goes off rails right away and never finds the rails again.
Eventually, our commentators begin talking about Fantastic Fest, the festival at which this film premieres. They take shots at other festivals. Very specifically outline that this premiere is happening at this festival and it’s happening now. This sort of unlikely specificity is so rarely seen in a genre film incorporating its platform as a piece of its form and function. We get the sense that this film only plays here. It plays tremendously but this feels like lightning in a bottle, a one-term engagement for a really brilliant one-off idea. By understanding its space, the audience, and the festival platforming the work, the film also functionally aligns with what are nearly the tropes of festival darlings. Are there different cuts of the film? Will it always just be a Fantastic Fest movie? If so, that almost makes it a kind of exhibition art. Any outcome here is interesting, even if it seems designed squarely for what indie film reviewers look for in festivals: quirky oddities with real subversive meta commentaries on genre.
I’m guilty as charged. I love microbudget filmmaking. Let directors blend genres with no money and I’m always gonna be curious about what the result is. Usually, it’s tepid and has little to say for itself. Razzennest only has things to say and tell you. It probably says too much and goes down too many avenues of misdirection. When it finally lands the plane and delivers the horror movie of it all, it’s awfully clear that the whole project took some real guts. Stick with it and you just might find something totally new that eventually folds in on itself and becomes a grotesque work of total ingenuity.