Bounty Films // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // July 22nd, 2011
"You can't kill me."
When Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) returns home to Romania, following time spent away in Italy, he finds himself thrown into something of a mystery. He arrives back shortly after a local has been found dead, apparently murdered, but is shocked to find his signature on the death certificate. Perplexed, Vlad begins to delve deeper, but quickly discovers the odd goings on -- such as a posse of locals tasked with keeping guard over the body of the deceased, for fear he may return -- are only the beginning. In his search for answers, Vlad is drawn towards wealthy former communist landowner Constantin Tirescu (Constantin Barbulescu), when he learns of his plot to steal land belonging to the poor townsfolk. In doing so, he discovers something much darker going on. For the rumors Vlad had heard of Constantin being in ill health prove to be wide of the mark: he's not ill, he's dead. Or rather, he's undead, a Strigoi, a vampire.
Offering an original take on the vampire movie, Writer/Director Faye Jackson's feature-length debut, Strigoi, has many things going for it; the most immediate of which are its looks. Make no mistake, thanks to Jackson's eye for detail and Kathinka Minthe's cinematography, Strigoi is one handsome film. The vast, open landscapes of Romania are used to evoke a feeling of detachment from the rest of civilization, making the odd goings on seem all the more possible. The film contains arresting imagery beyond its use of the natural. Thanks to the years spent honing her skills on shorts, Jackson has developed quite the eye for an arresting image, such as the one seen when a priest is confronted by a vampire in his church; it arguably does more than the screenplay to get across the mood of the piece.
The cast should also be commended for their work. The film's quirky sense of humor succeeds thanks to the performances of all involved. Catalin Paraschiv plays Vlad with the right blend of curiosity and concern. Right from the off Vlad is aware of something odd going on the village, but, thanks in part to time away which has made some locals suspicious of him, he can't put his finger on it. His medical background means he's not one for making illogical assumptions, so he comes to realize the truth only as he is presented with irrevocable evidence. The role of Vlad is well written, and certainly the most rounded in the film, and Parashiv clearly relished it. The supporting players, most notably Camelia Maxim, provide memorable performances, and are clearly in tune with the film's darkly comic tone.
However, to think Strigoi is anything special, despite its uniqueness, would be a mistake. Three problems plague Jackson's film, which, when combined, prove to be overwhelming. The pacing of the film is sloth-like, with each scene moving at the same languid pace as the last. Admittedly this allows the viewer to bask in the striking imagery that Jackson conjures, but that is too little an upside to compensate for the film's total lack of urgency. Secondly, and despite the film being a vampire movie, its interpretation of the creatures is uninspiring. It should be stressed that Jackson's version of the "strigoi" never steers too far away from the original Romanian mythology, and for this Jackson should be commended. For all that is admirable about this approach, it cannot be stressed enough just how dull they are when put up on the big screen. There's often a reason old myths are dressed up by moviemakers, and Strigoi proves why a little artistic license can be crucial. Finally, the film really isn't all that concerned with vampires at all. In fact, more than the supernatural creature made famous by old Universal horror movies, Strigoi uses vampires as a metaphor for the bloodsucking landowners who impoverish the common man with their greedy ways. This final criticism should be tempered by pointing out that, in many ways, Jackson's approach actually works. The strigoi take two forms: the living and the dead, and both feed off the other in one way or another. Each shares a distrust of the other, leading to a friction between the poor townsfolk and the rich, corrupt landowners. However, this class war, juxtaposed with the vampire legend, is disconcerting, with neither angle coming off wholly successfully. Kudos for the attempt at something new, but Strigoi really needed to play up to the vampire mythos more to make an entertaining picture.
Technically flawless, but lacking a compelling narrative -- despite an interesting premise -- Strigoi just fails to earn a recommendation.
Strigoi is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that has excellent black levels combined with a good level of detail. The 5.1 mix is a little flat, but dialogue remains clear throughout. Included on the disc are a trailer for the main feature, and an early short film from director Faye Jackson, entitled "Lump."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Bounty Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film