“Zone of Interest” Feels Like a College Thesis Film Project Stretched to Feature Length

There’s rampant NIMBY sentiment, a dubious quality of life and hardly an HOA covenant that holds up under scrutiny in the most bizarre suburb depicted on screen since Stepford or Skinamarink. Jonathan Glazer’s sanctimonious historical drama The Zone of Interest (C+) operates under the high-concept conceit of what it was like to be next door to the Auschwitz concentration camp in the height of its horrors. The film is an austere, distanced dissertation on human complicity in an evil enterprise that rarely transcends its largely plot-free existence. The commandant of the concentration camp (Christian Friedel) and his wife (Sandra Hüller) nonchalantly go about their day-to-day life in a house and garden next to the site where mass genocide is taking place. Friedel and Hüller have thankless parts, with Hüller’s real-life Weimaraner dog the only sympathetic creature in the film’s foreground. Inert as it is, the movie is nonetheless gorgeously lensed, and the sound design is incredibly exacting as viewers constantly sense the shrieks and struggles going on outside the fences of the Nazi family’s pristine oasis. It’s unsettling, to be sure, but it doesn’t get any more interesting as the film progresses. There have been many Holocaust films with actual protagonists and various you-are-there techniques, but this is a POV first: depicting the human horrors at a distance with no sequences depicting good and evil interacting in the same frame. The premise of a home sweet home minutes from atrocity succeeds only in activating one’s mind about what’s not on the screen. It’s a noble notion and curious experiment, but it’s a sterile and staid sit.

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