Johannes Grenzfurthner: The Austrian Director Redefining Horror

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Summary

  • Johannes Grenzfurthner redefines horror through his unique sound design and visual approach, emphasizing audio as a means to communicate a message.
  • Grenzfurthner explores socio-political issues with grace, finding a balance between cultural commentary and accessibility to a wide range of audiences.
  • Both of Grenzfurthner’s horror films, Masking Threshold and Razzennest, offer abstract storytelling through visceral imagery, pushing the boundaries of traditional cinematic storytelling.


With a consistent trend of endless remakes and trying to revitalize popular characters, horror has become more stagnant in pushing conventions than in previous decades. However, there are still those forging ahead and trying to re-envision the genre, those often working on the fringes, or at least outside the Hollywood system.


One such director pushing the boundaries as to how we define horror is Austrian filmmaker Johannes Grenzfurthner. With only two movies in the horror genre, Grenzfurthner has already proved himself a unique talent with a fresh perspective. We will take a look at what makes Johannes Grenzfurthner such a promising voice in the genre, and how his films have already begun to redefine horror.


Who is Johannes Grenzfurthner


Born on Jun. 13, 1975, in Vienna, Austria, Johannes Grenzfurthner is an artist, filmmaker, writer, theater director, performer, lecturer, and one of the founders of ‘techno-hedonism,’ which has seen him spearhead several conventions around the world exploring the subject. Johannes Grenzfurthner is also the founder and artistic director of ‘monochrome,’ an art and theory group where he makes films alongside other creatives. However, Grenzfurthner has described it as “more like a collective than a production company.”


Johannes Grenzfurthner has been directing since 1999, though his filmography primarily consists of short films made as part of the monochrome collective and documentaries. The latter includes notable works like the 2016 biographical exploration of ‘nerd culture’ in Traceroute and his deep dive into socio-political issues in Glossary of Broken Dreams. While both documentaries are worth checking out to get a better idea of the ideology that drives Grenzfurthner’s work, we will focus on his horror projects.

The Horror Films of Johannes Grenzfurthner


Johannes Grenzfurthner has completed work on two horror features, 2021’s Masking Threshold and 2022’s Razzennest. Both movies are tied by similar themes, approaching the horror elements using sounds as the primary object of horror, but also offering different interpretations and context in exploring this concept.


Masking Threshold follows a man who believes that the tinnitus he is suffering from is something beyond what others have experienced, marking a unique condition unto himself that no doctor will confirm or be able to treat. The man decides to take matters into his own hands and begins to conduct a series of experiments to see how different objects and interactions aggravate or calm his condition. The deeper he dives into his research, the more he loses his own grip on reality as his isolation allows him to fully indulge in his possible psychosis.


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Razzennest is presented as a meeting between an outspoken and crass filmmaker and a clueless critic who awkwardly talks through a screening of the director’s latest film. However, as the pair discuss a particular moment in the film and a sense of dread felt while filming, one of the people in the booth becomes ill and turns violent, possessed by an ancient spirit. The rest of the film plays out as the critic and director argue while trying to find a means of escape from the studio.

How Johannes Grenzfurhterner is Redefining Horror

Unique Sound Design and Visual Approach

The most notable element in both of the productions is the emphasis on audio as a means to communicate a message. The audio design is essential, and when separated from the visuals, it still works as a stand-alone experience. This is not to downplay the attention to detail of the visuals, but the immersive focus lies with auditory constructed horror that can escalate or cease to cause audience unease. This is particularly true of Masking Threshold, where Grenzfurhterner tries to relate the suffering of tinnitus through bouts of uncontrollable noise.


Focusing on sound is not entirely new to horror, from Gaspar Noe’s use of extremely low-frequency sound to create unease, to Peter Stickland’s tale of a sound designer going mad in Berbrian Sound Studio, and Bruce McDonald’s concept of a zombie virus transmitted through language in Pontypool. However, all these movies still lean on traditional cinematic means to tell a story, whereas Johannes Grenzfurhterner strips his stories of this to give a more raw, almost perverse, look into madness utilizing sound.


This is further made unique by the visuals, with both films offering an abstract way to convey the story through imagery that exists to engage on a visceral level as opposed to a narrative one. With Razzennest, images of a cave represent a primordial evil emerging into the studio, and the film constantly redefines the otherwise serene imagery of the film with commentary to imbue it with an underlying, biblical evil.


In comparison, Masking Threshold zooms in so intimately close to its subject, that the pangs of noise really feel like they are coming from an internal force. This is made more shocking by involving visually assaulting sequences that further agitate the condition of the protagonist, such as experiments on insects and animals when zoomed in (no animals were actually harmed in the making).


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Exploring Socio-Politics and Online Discourse with Grace

The other element that defines Johannes Grenzfurhterner’s voice as a unique one in horror is his approach to cultural issues, approaching with a nuance that is accessible to a wide range of audiences.


Masking Threshold touches on a conspiratorial level of madness, while Razzennest tackles the strong personalities of the film industry. In both cases, Grenzfurhterner is able to find a balance between exploring both elements, as even as he is willing to speak about his stances on various subjects, the political nature of Masking Threshold is subtle and not definitive in a way that is meant to isolate any viewer. Essentially, his art is reflective of society, not used to pushing his own values.


Comparatively, Grenzfurhterner’s Razzennest playfully pokes at the very industry he finds himself in, with both the critic and filmmaker presenting obnoxious, yet familiar, stereotypes of each profession. Again, despite the strong personas conjured, the work does not feel like an attack on the medium itself, or a call for change. Rather, it reflects the realities of the relationship between the media and the creative and places it into a horror narrative.


When speaking to MovieWeb on the release of Masking Threshold, Johannes Grenzfurhterner touched on the sentiment that seemingly went to play a large role in the writing of Razzennest; with two ‘nerds’ from different sides of the industry constantly pushing their superiority in conversation.

“The cool thing about being a nerd is learning. Of course, there’s always this, ‘I know more than you, I’ve seen more films than you, and I know more references than you’ side of it. But that also can be something very positive. I mean, science in a certain way works like this.”

Where to Watch The Films of Johannes Grenzfurthner

Eye Close up Masking Threshold
Drafthouse Films


While many of the short films and documentary works by Johannes Grenzfurthner are unavailable to stream, you can watch both of his horror features online. Masking Threshold can be rented on Apple TV+ or streamed for free on Tubi, though given the immersive experience of the movie, Tubi’s commercial-supported free streaming is not as ideal as being able to watch uninterrupted. Razzennest is available to rent on Apple TV+ and can be streamed on Fandor, or for free on Plex.


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