Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Written, directed, and starring Benjamin Christensen, Haxan is a documentary film about the world of witchcraft and all of its superstitions through re-creations and all sorts of images. The film is based on Christensen’s studies of the Malleus Maleficarum that showcases this unique world of dark magic and mysticism. Also starring Clara Pontoppidan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, and Maren Pedersen. Haxan is a disturbing yet visually-spellbinding film from Benjamain Christensen.

The film is essentially a study of witchcraft throughout the years dating back from the first age of civilization to the early 1920s with its large focus set entirely in the 15th Century. Told in seven chapters, Benjamin Christensen explores the evolution of witchcraft and Satanic rituals by beginning the first chapter with elaborate images of Hell along with still photos of book illustrations about the fear that has captivated civilization in those early years. The rest of the film is told in dramatic recreations about the paranoia of witchcraft in the 15th Century and how the Inquisition tried to deal with this rise through torture devices, forced confessions, and stake burnings. The final part revolves around the exploration of hysteria among young woman and how they could be connected with the behaviors of witches in the past.

In these dramatic re-creations, Christensen presents something where he reveals about the sense of fear and paranoia that occurs in these stories about witchcraft where Satan would make an appearance every now and then. It also shows these very disturbing images of what women would do in the presence of Satan where they would embrace him or fear him. Then comes the behavior of the Inquisition who do whatever they can to press these women into confessing about witches and those who are associated. It is revealed that more than 8 million people were killed in these terrible time.

Christensen’s direction is entrancing for the way he presents the visuals the use of red and blue tints along with these dazzling images in the film’s first part where it includes small diagrams and moving images that plays out to the world itself and where Heaven and Hell is. The rest of the film has these unique images though the camera rarely moves. Still, Christensen captures a lot of intensity in the drama along with some mesmerizing images of witches flying over a town in dissolved images or a woman being tempted by the devil as her gold is taken in stop-motion animation format.

Through inter-title cards giving lots of exposition about these events and moments along with dramatic moments, it does establish a world where things are out of control and women are the victims of these ludicrous accusations. The film’s final part that is set in the 1920s reveal a lot about the way women suffer from hysteria and its relations to the way women behaved during the witch hunts of the 15th Century. It has Christensen explaining, through inter-title cards, about these similarities as well as how much time has changed since. Overall, Christensen creates an eerie yet fascinating docu-drama on witchcraft.

Cinematographer Johan Ankerstjerne does excellent work with the color-tinted photography to create an atmosphere for the different settings of the film from the orange-red daytime scenes to the more bluish scenes at night. Editor Edla Hansen does wonderful work with the editing to create some stylish cuts to play out the drama as well as its suspenseful moments. Art director Richard Louw does superb work with the design of the art collage that is created in the first part along with set pieces to showcase the world of the 15th Century. The film’s music by Launy Grondahl, Emil Reesen, and Matti Bye is terrific for its piano-driven score that is mostly playful at times but also eerie to create an air of intrigue and suspense that occurs throughout the film.

The film’s cast is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features noteworthy performances from Tora Teje as a modern hysteric, Oscar Stribolt as a fat monk, Clara Pontoppidan as a troubled nun, Astrid Holm as a housewife accused of witchcraft, Maren Pedersen as a old witch who is pushed to the edge by the Inquisition, and Benjamin Christensen as Satan.

Haxan is a mesmerizing yet unsettling docu-drama from Benjamin Christensen. It is a truly an intriguing film that explores the world of witchcraft as well as the sense of paranoia that people have that is quite relevant in the 21st Century. It’s also a film that has amazing visuals for the way it presents 15th Century life in the era of witch-burnings and such. In the end, Haxan is a remarkable film from Benjamin Christensen.

© thevoid99 2012

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