The Zone of Interest

A24
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

It is impossible to overstate the emotional impact of The Zone of Interest, a German-language film from director Jonathan Glazer. A Holocaust film that doesn’t show any of the actual atrocities of the Holocaust, The Zone of Interest is a horror film about the banality of evil, an exploration of the darkest recesses of humanity and a siren call about the profound dangers of indifference.

It isn’t an actual horror film, but the feeling you get while watching it certainly makes it feel like one. Tension is the single-most sensory experience of this film, and it never lets up. It is the stillest, calmest and most ordinary film you will ever watch that will literally eat you away from the inside.

The setting and the majority of the film’s action takes place inside a house where a seemingly average family lives. The family go about their day-to-day activities, children playing, women cooking and cleaning, men getting ready to go to work (it is the ‘40s after all). What makes this seemingly ordinary tableau just a little different is where this house is and who this family is. The family is that of the Auschwitz commander and the house sits just beyond the wall of the most horrific Nazi death camp of World War II.

You never see any violence, and the existence of that wall and the horrors that are happening behind it are hardly ever even referenced, but they linger in the air, gently wafting through every shot, permeating every otherwise sweet and ordinary family scene. Although Glazer’s direction is taut and effective, it is Tarn Willers and Johnnie Burn’s Oscar-nominated sound design that delivers the film’s haunting and nauseating gut-punch—a constant, distant hum of horrors, of grinding machines, gunfire and muffled screams, just loud enough to make out, just dim enough to fade into the background, so easy to tune out. Your stomach is literally tied in knots, watching ordinary lives play out, without a care in the world, as, just yards away, some of the greatest atrocities in human history are inflicted.

It is just that reflection of indifference, that casual acceptance of the setting and the situation that makes The Zone of Interest so ultimately horrifying—and should serve as a vivid commentary on humanity’s capacity for willful ignorance and complicity in evil.

We cannot, as a race, afford to forget what we are capable of. Then and now.