Häxan ★★★★

Part pseudo documentary, part dramatized historical fiction, and part historical drama, Haxan is ultimately an experiment of the senses.

A Swedish film from the silent era, the Director was interested in piecing together bits and pieces of written material, visual material (including graphs and pictures and demonstrations), and moving picture to tell the story of witchcraft from the middle ages to the present. When pieced together, the effect as a story is transfixing and engaging, even daring enough to be part comedy part tragedy.

The film is obviously building off of a particular foundation when it comes to understanding the relationship between witchcraft (through the ages) and its roots as religious and superstitious belief. That's not to say the history is wrong. What Haxan does an incredible job at underscoring is how witches in medieval belief connects directly to the more modern treatment of women in the age of the hysteria. It's a shocking and sobering demonstration to see this connection in such a visually arresting fashion.

But where Haxan wants to deal with the religious history itself does remain entrenched in a singular narrative, especially where it deals with understandings of hell and the devil. It's framed so as to be able to say once we reach the modern age that while things might look a bit differently, it is fair to say that superstition remains in the form of religious belief that continues to find women oppressed and demonized. What would be more fair to say is that religious belief that oppresses women still exists today, but religious belief (or religious history) itself belongs to a study and an expression that is much larger than that, and arguably much more complex and compelling. The line this film follows is a rather straight and altogether assuming one that ignores that complexity.

And yet, the sad part is, it is still true. And horrifying. And as a horror film Haxan is something special.

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