Sunday, July 3, 2011

DVD Review: Strigoi: The Undead (2009)


Label: Vicous Circle Films
Release Date: August 2nd 2011
Region Code: Region 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 106 mins
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Faye Jackson
Cast: Constantin Bărbulescu, Cătălin Paraschiv, Dan Popa, Rudi Rosenfeld
Tagline: When the villagers killed Constantin Tirescu, they thought it was justice. Vlad Cozma thinks it was murder. Now Constantin thinks pickles might go nice with blood.

In Faye Jackson's unconventional British vampire film STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD (2009) a young man named Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) returns to his small Romanian hometown after a failed sojourn to Italy. He returns to the quiet village to live with his reclusive grandfather Nicolas (Rudy Rosenfeld). It's a small place where the people are simple, very superstitious and they seem to have quite the distaste for communists and gypsies.

While in search of some smokes Vlad enters a small shop and discovers a small group of town elders presiding over the body of a local farmer named Floren (Nicolae Stanila). As per the local Romanian superstition the men are presiding over the corpse for three days and nights to be sure it does not rise as a Strigoi; a wronged soul that rises after death to seek justice, their revenge intensified by a hunger for blood, it's very much a folksy vampire legend. Vlad, who graduated med school but is not a practicing physician, notices bruising around the man's neck and suspects foul play right away. He notices the gathering of men are unusually well-dressed he suspects that a local ex-Communist land baron named Constantine Tirescu may have bribed the men to cover-up a murder. What Vlad doesn't know is that these same men and the village priest Tudor (Dan Popa) murdered Tirescu and his wife Ileana (Roxanne Guttman) the night before in an act of vigilante justice for the murder of Floren. He approaches the local arm of the law Octav (Vlad Jipa) with his suspicions but is more or less humored by Octav until things start getting a bit weird, especially when the Tirescu's return to the village with odd appetites. Vlad sets out to sleuth the mystery and finds himself wrapped up in the bizarre goings on, even more so when it is revealed that his signature is on the death certificate.

The film has a strong cast, not a weak link in the bunch. A lot of the film's humor is derived from his interactions with the community which speaks to a generational gap, more than one person inquires why he didn't give Italy more of a chance, implying he should leave. He is called a "pussy" on several occasions stemming from his uneasiness around blood which stems from a childhood trauma involving the beheading a chicken, which we see in a brief flashback, as gramps intones "don't be a pussy Vlad, kill it!". The grandfather is a very comedic character and his interactions with Vlad are quite entertaining.

The vampire mythology of the film is a bit odd, I'm not sure I fully understood it, it's based on traditional Romanian folklore more so than any Western convention of the creature, they're more vengeful spirits than supernaturally charged bloodsuckers. It's a unique take on the mythos, at least from my experiences and it kept my interest. It's a bit arthouse and worlds apart from TWILIGHT or 30 DAYS OF NIGHT but the dark comedy works, the mythos is unique and it was a pleasure to watch a vamp flick that defies stereotype and expectation.

DVD: STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD is a good looking film, shot on location in Romania the cinematography sets an atmosphere and tone that suits the film and it's subject. There's a complimentary score of Romanian folk music that sounds great. I would assume the screener from Vicious Circle is not representative of the final DVD, it has interlaced video with a prominent "Property of Breaking Glass Pictures" watermark (ugh) throughout that certainly doesn't do the image any favors. There were no special features included on my screener but the final disc will have Faye Jackson's short film called LUMP, a photo gallery and a trailer.

Verdict: STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD is darkly funny and quirky take on the vampire myth that's unlike anything I can recall in recent memory, it defies expectation with a unique setting and mythology that comes straight from the cradle of vampire lore. It's small town setting is not unlike Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT meets Guillermo Del Toro's CRONOS with a folksy Romanian setting, a definite recommend for those looking for something that's not the usual vampire flick that panders to genre stereotypes, it's a much more thoughtful handling of the genre that will appeal to fans of artier CRONOS and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. The film comes to DVD from Vicious Circle Films om August 2nd and I say give it a watch. 3.5 outta 5