Connect with us
Horror has long been an excellent vehicle for political messaging, though rarely as concise and direct as in 'Maus.'

Film

Fantastic Fest 2017: ‘Maus’ Is Horror As Education

Horror has long been an excellent vehicle for political messaging, though rarely as concise and direct as in ‘Maus.’

Educational filmmaking can be many things, but if we’re being real, the ones that most people watch are generally dry propaganda docs that we don’t truly comprehend in grade school. Maus is an educational film, ostensibly a narrative horror movie, and how you feel about that may depend on your prior knowledge of the Bosnian War, your interest in learning about it, and whether you think such material should be within the purview of narrative film to be this didactic. Full disclosure: I knew nothing about the Bosnian War, I am a white American, and what I do now know comes from this film and a peruse of Wikipedia. I will leave the political analysis to a professional, but can speak to the success of Maus as an educational device and as a narrative.

Alex (August Wittgenstein) and Selma (Alma Terzic) are stranded in woods. Selma is a native Bosnian, and they have traveled from Berlin for a funeral. They are loving, but their relationship is obviously young. Alex plays the protector and provider, and when the two disagree or misunderstand each other, he commands the situation through sheer naive arroganceand Selma’s active and persistent warnings about active landmines and dangerous men fall on deaf ears as the situation descends from an inconvenient breakdown into an absolute nightmare.

Director Yayo Herrero, in cooperation with his Bosnian cast, puts allegory first. Alex is European, Selma is Bosnian Muslim, and they find themselves at the mercy of two Serbian men. It is not immediately clear just how political Maus is, but once the couple comes across two Serbian men, the film slowly begins proselytize. With extreme close-ups and shallow focus, Herrero nimbly uses the subjective experience of his characters to illustrate both their perspective on the situation and respective gaps in understanding. Objectivity is barely on display, and in the dark heart of the film a well-conceived and very spooky vision of a spirit even crops up to heighten the reality further. If the viewer is already familiar with the Serbian oppression of Bosnian Muslims, his approach may prove grating and contrived, but to a new student, the scaffolding is visible but illustrative.

Herrero opens Maus from a European persepective, and in the beginning Selma’s reticence and anxiety is difficult to empathize with. In testament to Herrero’s skill and Alma Terzic’s terrific acting, her experience is clear and palpable by film’s end. Wittgenstein’s acting seems less good, but works in metaphor as it helps demonstrate his (very frustrating) obstinacy. Discussing this film without speaking of understanding the message would be impossible, and the narrative about humans purportedly on display does suffer for the film’s ulterior ambitions. Herrero eases the audience into it, but by the climax characters obviously speak as political positions and not as people. That said, while not a perfect merge, it’s amazing that such a transparent allegory works at all. And it does. The characters feel real, and the danger they face is imminent.

Maus is not literally connected to the Art Spiegalman comic, but in appropriating the title, Herrero presents this story of persecution in ironic juxtaposition to the universal condemnation of Nazi war crimes. The specifics of this story are worth understanding, but the main point is to shed light on an underrepresented atrocity, and the Western world’s complicity in that representation. Horror has long been an excellent vehicle for political messaging, though rarely this concise and direct. If one could imagine Maus as an apolitical horror movie, it would be a fair film, though particularly cruel and unforgiving. But the voice of the creator uplifts it, and as a Trojan horse for its humanist sociopolitical messaging, it is excellent.

Fantastic Fest runs September 21st – 28th. Visit the festival’s official website.

Written By

Emmet Duff is a small town Ohioan living in Austin, TX. When he's not writing about film, he cares for plants, takes pictures, and goes exploring.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Greatest Canadian Movies Greatest Canadian Movies

Made in Canada: The 80 Greatest Canadian Movies of All Time

Film

Queer As Folk 1999 retrospective Queer As Folk 1999 retrospective

Queer As Folk – A Cultural Milestone

TV

Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 4 "Dear Billy" Review Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 4 "Dear Billy" Review

Stranger Things Hits a Terrifying Home Run with “Chapter 4: Dear Billy”

TV

John Carpenter's The Thing 1984 movie retrospective John Carpenter's The Thing 1984 movie retrospective

Ambiguity Makes for Better Horror in 1982’s The Thing

Film

The Witch: Part 2. The Other One The Witch: Part 2. The Other One

The Witch: Part 2. The Other One is a Disappointing Genre Hybrid

Culture

Web of Make Believe review Web of Make Believe review

Netflix’s The Web of Make Believe Gets Off to a Scary Start 

TV

Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 "The Dive" Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 "The Dive"

Stranger Things Scrapes the Bottom with “Chapter 6: The Dive”

TV

Stranger Things Catches Its Breath with “Chapter 5: The Nina Project”

TV

Jurassic World Dominion - Tilt Jurassic World Dominion - Tilt

Jurassic World Dominion Misunderstands the Entire Franchise’s Allure

Film

Ranking the 10 best Stranger Things characters Ranking the 10 best Stranger Things characters

10 Best Stranger Things Characters

TV

Stranger Things Screeches To a Halt with “Chapter 7: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”

TV

The Interceptor The Interceptor

Netflix’s The Interceptor is Sunk by Laziness

Culture

The Wilds vs. Yellowjackets: Which is Better? The Wilds vs. Yellowjackets: Which is Better?

The Wilds vs. Yellowjackets— Which is Better?

TV

Rutger Hauer Rutger Hauer

Blade Runner and the Particular Qualities that Noir Fans Can Appreciate

Friday Film Noir

Stranger Things Pulls Itself Together with “Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero” Stranger Things Pulls Itself Together with “Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero”

Stranger Things Pulls Itself Together with “Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero”

TV

Queer as Folk 2022 Review Queer as Folk 2022 Review

Queer As Folk Perfectly Blends Tradition and Innovation

TV

Connect