The Zone of Interest

Directed By Jonathan Glazer

Starring – Sandra Huller, Christian Friedel, Freya Kreutzkam

The Plot – The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Friedel), and his wife Hedwig (Huller), strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some suggestive material and smoking

The Zone of Interest | Official Trailer 2 HD | A24 (


The Idea and execution of less is more rarely translates effectively and entertainingly towards film, but Glazer’s claustrophobically condensed perspective on the haunting perils of war emits a haunting paralyzation on the ignorance of those literally on the doorstep of it, all the while crafting a false sense of security in the confines of the film’s dominant setting that effectively conjures those horrors, despite nothing visually ever being shown. Glazer pitches an undeniably scintillating and heart-stomping experience, both in the surveillance style camera work, whose prolonged depictions in single frame shots inspire uneasiness to the persistence of our focus, but also in the unique approach of focusing faithfully on a family of protagonists who are involved deeply in the Nazi party. As to where normally this aspect would make it difficult to entertain and invest in the plights of such evil and naive characters, the reality is that here it cements an overhanging irony to the proceedings that quite literally feels like the manifestation of an ivory tower, both in the advantageous lifestyles that these characters enjoy, but also in the stark and horrifying contrast of such beautiful imagery within the household and surrounding landscapes being combined with such boldly emotive and absorbing sound designs. This aspect alone is the very best part of the film for me because Glazer and his production tell us so much about the disgusting realities of what’s taking shape outside of our established setting, without giving us any actual proof in visuals to meet us halfway, and when audibly scoring little children of the Hoss household doing gardening or even just frolicking in fantasy, overhead, crafts an overhanging vulnerability that feels like it builds like a steaming pressure cooker just waiting to blow. What’s most impressive about this aspect is the volume mixing itself, which not only appraises various proximities in everything from screaming to unloading ammunition, but also in the strangely undefined sounds themselves, which outline a far greater sense of tragedy than the ones we ourselves have possibly learned about in the nearly eighty years since that have succeeded World War II. There is a morbid curiousity within me that wishes the film could explain just what is transpiring during certain minutes, but it’s a testament to Glazer’s unique and uncompromising vision that those perils remain devastating despite such limited focus towards them, making it all the more infuriating for audiences to witness the unimportant problems of this Nazi family in contrast to hundreds of thousands losing their lives. This alarming chorus of brutality equally lends itself towards Mica Levi’s encapsulating score, which disappointingly didn’t receive an Oscar nomination, but so desparately deserved it over most of the nominees that stem from that list. While Mica’s usage is limited and called upon during particular moments to inscribe such a glaring ominousness towards the proceedings, it’s none the less effectively defining in outlining these compositions that could easily be lifted from a horror movie, and considering the traumatic tragedies that persisted in such an established setting, maybe that genre borrowing isn’t too far off from what we have here before us. On top of this, the endearing performances from Huller and Friedel supplant endearing character studies towards people who superficially would be limited to verbs such as “Selfish” or “Searing”, but instead hint towards an air of unassuming self-awareness that outlines the internal dilemmas from within them that realize the error of their actions. Huller, who was already brilliant in last year’s “Anatomy of a Fall”, imbeds a strength and stoicism to the character that often forces her to project an image of feelings so different than we feel from her in those moments of personal reflection, and Friedel’s Rudolf Hoss is the manifestation of evil in its purest form, but simultaneously a nurturing family man, which makes the dissection all the more difficult in depicting him as one side of the moral dispute over the other. Glazer’s commanding hand never loses sight of the actions that each of them play towards the kind of promoted prejudice that persists so violently outside of their peaceful abode, but the tender moments inside of these everyday family dynamics responsibly illustrate that the most shocking element of the Jewish Holocaust was that it was actually done by people, and that, during a time when humanity is so loosely defined in the actions of our own cruel and unforgiving world, is perhaps the most glaring observation that Glazer commands in such a difficultly impactful engagement.


While I can safely attest that “The Zone of Interest” is my favorite of Glazer’s four films that he has carefully plucked in almost twenty-five years as a cinematic director, I can say that it isn’t without the kind of glaring problems that tested my faithful investment in the most compromising of methods, primarily during a third act that feels so different from anything previously established in this unique structure. As to where the first two acts remain persistent in this claustrophobic house inside of Auschwitz, the story instead deviates on one character’s long-distance journey across Germany, with none of the tension or ambiance of echoing tragedy at its disposal. If the script balanced this while still committing itself to those characters remaining inside of the established setting, then I would’ve been open towards such creative deviation, but it abandons those protagonists, then never replaces them with anything even remotely compelling or even accidentally suspenseful, leading to an underwhelming climax that receives its exclamation point in an ending that is the very definition of anticlimactic. To be fair, I fully intepret what Glazer was going for in combining two respective timelines during the film’s closing moments, but its profound sentiments are articulated with such forceful editing transitions and questionable moments in the past timeline that it clumsily obscures the power in the pledge, leading towards unfulfilment in the extent of our established story and characters that simply just ends without even a shread of closure. On top of this, my only other issue with the film pertained towards the on-screen white text of English translated subtitles, which occasionally were difficult to accurately interpret in the depths of corresponding on-screen visuals involving the same color. For instance, white text in subtitles in front of sunny skies or glaring lighting during interior sequences. This obviously won’t be an issue for everyone, as German audiences won’t have subtitles at all, with the language of choice being in German, but when I grade a film I include everything that benefited or alienated my engagement, and while subtitles are such a small part of the bigger picture within films, the ones here did require more effort than I would’ve appreciated, especially considering I’m simultaneously trying to remain focused on the important corresponding visuals between needing to read just what these characters are communicating towards one another. Black outlines on the text, or better editing with scenes not engulfed in white are two methods to fix this simple problem and keep focus on depths of the story, where it rightfully belongs.

“The Zone of Interest” certainly isn’t the first big screen foretelling of the horrors of the Holocaust, but it is a claustrophobically uncomfortable engagement made effective by the passivity of the approach, which articulates the enveloping tragedies surrounding characters comfortably cozy inside of their lavish surroundings. While hampered by questionable motives inside of a weak link third act that drains the momentum and tension from the film, Glazer’s other two acts are simmered scintillatingly to perfection, tapping into the banalities of evil that even eighty years later still threaten to divide and destroy our differences.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

3 thoughts on “The Zone of Interest

  1. This is a unique film in that the protagonists are terrible people, so there is really no one to invest in. I just can’t get into a film where the Nazis are shown in any kind of a normal way. I’m sure that this is a very well made film, but it is not one for me.

  2. Yeah I’m seeing such a wide range of interpretations from masterpiece to “it put me to sleep”. And I think Glazer’s minimalist approach on a topic that is already so potent is so smart and creative to a film genre that is so full already. I agree the third act took all the wind out of my sails. It could have gone in so many directions that could have provided more commentary/conflict/consequence. But it continues to demand you to fill in the blank. I also didn’t realize how much more visual I am in a movie watching than auditory. It demanded all of my senses to operate at the same intensity and I wish the pay off was more. But I do appreciate this movie and your review of it. Accurate rating as well. Good job!

  3. This was a tough watch, not only for the harrowing subject matter that it’s covering but also for its unique yet bleak approach to the material which for better or worse made me feel numb by the end (that may be the point). That said, there is so much to respect and praise in this film that you covered thoroughly especially when it comes to the technical components like the sound design that might honestly challenge Oppenheimer for best sound at the Oscars. I will say that I have absolutely no desire to ever see this again or further analyze further like Glazer’s previous film Under the Skin. This is still a great movie that deserved the nominations that it got. Nice job.

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