It’s surprising the banality of evil, as a concept, can still chill the blood given how often it’s invoked these days. Writer-director Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest draws it out again, relying on this shared understanding. His film is banal by design, luring us into its petty dramas and eliding visuals of horror, before snapping back into focus.
In a vacuum, the opening of The Zone of Interest merely presents a family in bucolic scenes around their country home. Through the film’s echoing sound design and careful inversions of its frame, however, we’re gradually rooted to a very specific location: the Auschwitz concentration camp. Led by Rudolf (Christian Friedel), a Nazi commandant, and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), the film documents (merely, again) the day-to-day lives of this family—a visit from mother, a garden party, work-related stress, and so on. It would all be quaint if not for the constant rumble from just over the wall in the backyard. With a bleak score from Mica Levi and other spiky touches, Glazer’s film is another reminder of just how monstrous the Holocaust was, one that reifies its all-consuming evil via a new method.
As such, the icy remove of Glazer’s typical compositional control, working overtime here, crafts The Zone of Interest into a film both unsettling and dull—which, to be fair, is no insult. Glazer clearly revels in the particular challenge and provocation of a film on this subject, made in this manner; its hell made all the hotter by the effort to ignore it.