Review: Jonathan Glazer’s ‘The Zone of Interest’ is unsettling and unforgettable

Jonathan Glazer’s chilling drama about the Holocaust, The Zone of Interest, is an unforgettable cinematic experience. In 2004, the world learned about Jonathan Glazer’s directing prowess when Birth was nominated for several accolades during the awards season. Since then, the filmmaker has garnered a reputation for making films that force people to think about diverse issues. But none of his past movies have been as traumatic as his latest film, The Zone of Interest. Some movies remind you of certain historical events, while others make you experience those events. That’s what Glazer’s latest film does.

It’s clear that a serious film awaits

The Zone of Interest is a different and unique take on the Holocaust. The massacre, which began in 1941, has been depicted in several projects, including Schindler’s List, and most of them show the horrors of it. But none of them have depicted the viewpoint of a family that lives where the walls of Auschwitz concentration camp finish. It’s reasonable to ask why this story is worth telling. But Jonathan Glazer makes sure how important it was to show another perspective about the Holocaust in the most traumatic way possible. 

Even before seeing the first-ever frame of the movie, we get to realize what kind of journey it will be. As the film’s title appears on the screen, the words are soon overtaken by darkness and Mica Levi’s soul-stirring background score. That is more than enough to know the seriousness of what viewers are about to see.

The Zone of Interest is an unsettling journey that follows the Höss family

The movie follows the story of the Höss family living right outside the Auschwitz concentration camp. At first, not much appears to be unusual. The Höss family leads a perfect life, and there’s nothing to be worried about, however soon we are reminded of what is happening on the other side of the wall. The constant screaming of people and gunshots is enough to make everyone realize something sinister is happening in those buildings. Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) is the head of the Auschwitz camp and is living in a lavish house with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller). This home was everything they ever wanted and Rudolf’s wife doesn’t shy away from calling it their “dream home.”

Still photo from The Zone of Interest. Image is courtesy of A24.
Still photo from The Zone of Interest. Image is courtesy of A24.

To make things look authentic, Glazer went back into the past and used archival footage to create the exact replica of the house where Rudolf and his wife used to live. On one side of the wall, we see the lavish garden of the Höss family. Meanwhile, on the other side of the wall, we see smoke coming out of the chimneys. It’s perfectly clear what’s happening in those buildings, and we don’t go into details. No matter how calm things are from the outside, the pain on the other side of the wall is increasing day after day, and that makes viewers think about the film’s unsettling nature. 

Jonathan Glazer’s perspective

One of the most astounding aspects of the film is how Jonathan Glazer chooses never to show viewers what is occurring inside the concentration camp. It’s safe to assume that the filmmaker took this route because he believes viewers already know about the Holocaust and can remember what happened. The filmmaker wants them to go back into their memories and imagine the missing parts themselves. As a result, we get something that is more distressing than an entire movie can show us visually.

The most daunting part of the movie is how Höss’ family continuously ignores all the firing and screaming to lead a life filled with laughter, gossip, and birthday parties. In one of the scenes, they throw a pool party for their friends and enjoy the joyous moment. Meanwhile, in the background, the smoke coming out of the chimneys gives a spine-chilling effect to that entire scenario. Mixed with Levi’s haunting background score, The Zone of Interest is a story that tends to hide the actual picture and show how the world works even when there’s chaos around.

(L-R) Sandra Hüller in The Zone of Interest. Image is courtesy of A24.
(L-R) Sandra Hüller in The Zone of Interest. Image is courtesy of A24.

As far as performances are concerned, Sandra Hüller is the real star of this movie. Her portrayal is as riveting as it can get. Through her character, she portrays unwavering devotion to her family’s happiness, even against the horrifying backdrop of millions suffering in mass killings. Hüller is marvelous as Hedwig. Meanwhile, Christian Friedel has done a phenomenal job in showing how a Nazi never cared about those who were being transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The Zone of Interest is about contrasts

The Zone of Interest is about contrasts; every frame shows things looking bleak for those suffering in the camps. For the most of it, the movie is a spine-chilling reminder of what trauma feels like. However, in the final moments of the film, Glazer goes into the future and shows how the Auschwitz concentration camp has now been turned into a museum, and tourists can see what was left behind by those poor souls. 

By this point, viewers have already realized that whatever they have seen on the screen is nothing short of a masterpiece, and when those end credits roll, you just feel like lying in bed and not talking to anyone. This is how The Zone of Interest makes you feel.

Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is a haunting look at the Holocaust in the most unforgettable way possible. Glazer’s direction, writing, and vision make this movie an uncomfortable watch, but undoubtedly, it’s one of the most important—an unforgettable cinematic experience. 

The Zone of Interest is now playing in limited heaters

The Zone of Interest is currently playing through a limited theatrical release in the United States. It will be available as a wider release in January of 2024. Learn more about the film at A24’s official website. 

The Zone of Interest is the official British contender for International Feature Film at the upcoming 96th Academy Awards. It recently won a number of awards at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Grand Prix. Have you watched it yet? What did you think? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or by messaging us on X at @MoviesWeTexted. 

If you’re interested in more A24 films, visit all of our A24 reviews, including a look at Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla and the upcoming drama The Iron Claw. 

If you just want to watch something that is international, check out all of our international film reviews.