By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Award-winning filmmaker/artist Johannes Grenzfurthner got in touch with the first peek at his new screen project, a surreal study of dread.
Grenzfurthner directed MASKING THRESHOLD, which was recently completed and is now out to festivals, from a script he wrote with Samantha Lienhard, and it features the voice of Ethan Haslam as the nameless protagonist. The synopsis: “Conducting a series of experiments in his makeshift home-lab, a skeptical IT worker tries to cure his harrowing hearing impairment. But where will his research lead him? MASKING THRESHOLD combines a chamber play, a scientific procedural, an unpacking video and a DIY YouTube channel while suggesting endless vistas of existential pain and decay. Glimpse the world of the nameless protagonist in this eldritch tale, which is by no means for the faint of heart.”
“MASKING THRESHOLD is a film about a suffering, stubborn person whose worldview and beliefs are turned on their head, whose dogmas come out against the world and himself,” Grenzfurthner tells us. “My protagonist is queer, so you want to understand the societal pressure on him, you want to understand the trauma he went through, and the burden of his awful illness. But a point comes when sympathy for him dissolves into horror. It’s like watching one of those videos of a car sliding on an icy road, very slow, unable to brake. You watch it, and you know it won’t end well. You just don’t know how bad it is going to be in the end.”
At the center of this unsettling viewing experience, shot by DP Florian Hofer, who also edited the movie with Grenzfurthner, is a fear the filmmaker believes is shared by many people. “The modern worldview tears us from the center of creation and reduces us to a speck of dust in space. It includes the urge for control, the reactionary fear of regression and decay and an almost Lovecraftian terror of contamination. Although the protagonist is a scientifically educated person, his dark, regressive fears and utter hubris overwhelm him. He’s a know-it-all, ranting and raving in his improvised laboratory, a strange womb of sorts, and yet he knows nothing.
“He isn’t a pleasant person, but I understand him,” the filmmaker continues. “He suffers, and the world turns away from him. He’s alone, misunderstood. Many of his thoughts and processes are derived from my understanding of the world. They are based on my dark thoughts. I am a nerd, and the germ cell of nerdism is difference. Nerds yearn to be understood, to find opportunities and share experiences, and to find companions to explore bizarre interests. At the same time, they derive an almost perverse pleasure from wallowing in the opposite of these things. Nerds love the deficiency of the other and that of their own. They’re eager explorers who enjoy measuring themselves against one another, competing aggressively. And yet, the nerd’s existence comprises an element of the occult, of mystery. How this power expresses or focuses is very important. Although it might sound strange, ethics are a fundamental issue in MASKING THRESHOLD.”
And the lack of that quality, Grenzfurthner adds, is key to the character. “He inflates a bubble around himself, fearing and avoiding the world in its multifaceted reality. He has a well-manicured and privileged ignorance. It’s short-sightedness and negligent ahistoricity. Often, that sort of ignorance doesn’t leave any room for ethics.”
The ultimate message: “Don’t be like my protagonist,” Grenzfurthner concludes. “Be better.”