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Simon Read [Film Festival 11.04.09] United Kingdom movie review comedy drama fantasy

Year: 2009
Directors: Faye Jackson
Writers: Faye Jackson
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

Strigoi is the best film I saw at GrimmUpNorth by quite a long way, and the most deserving of the cinema treatment. The film concerns a young Romanian man called Vlad who returns to his hometown after an extended stay in Italy, during which he worked a depressing job in a fried chicken hut. Upon arrival he decides to stay with his paranoid but good natured grandfather, before returning to live with his hyperactive mother. What Vlad doesn’t know is that small town justice has led to supernatural goings-on; as murdered, wealthy landowner Constantin and his wife have returned from the grave to exact revenge on the townsfolk.

The first scene of Strigoi sets the bar for the rest of the film, with the brutal execution of Constantin Tirescu and his wife, on the grounds that they murdered the local drunk. Constantin’s apparent last words, “You can’t kill me…” while uttered in the tones of a rich landowner; carry the message that he is in fact Strigoi, a sort of ghoulish off-shoot vampire that’s part of Romanian folklore. While a Strigoi may suck blood, they aren’t subject to the regular rules of vampire stories, and this defying of convention is the first of many in a film that’s difficult to categorize, but hugely enjoyable, well written and directed. What follows the ‘murder’ is a slow-motion montage of the ransacking of Tirescu’s estate, as the towns population grab anything and everything they can, dancing around to “Spirit In The Sky”, chugging free booze and carving-up the dead man’s property, it’s a great start to a film that keeps on giving.

Vlad wakes-up in his grandfather’s house and immediately and desperately wants a cigarette (a running theme in the film), so visits the local store but finds it empty. Moving to the back room he finds a group of familiar men sitting around the coffin of the local drunk. They explain the tradition of watching a corpse for three nights to ensure the soul is safe, and that it isn’t Strigoi. Vlad seems unconvinced and cynical, accusing the men of just wanting an excuse for a few vodkas, but shares a drink nonetheless, and moves on after they chastise him over his trip to Italy. Vlad notices the expensive shoes one man wears, and begins to notice that things are not quite right, especially after his friend, the local police officer, asks why he signed the death certificate of the dead drunk. Vlad is baffled by this, and plays detective himself in an effort to figure out what’s going on and who forged his signature, in a town steeped in paranoia, secrecy and the supernatural. He also begins to suspect that the bruised body in the coffin did not die a natural death, and that the men are hiding something sinister, but he can’t seem to extract a simple or honest answer from anyone.

One of the best aspects of Strigoi is Vlad himself. He’s a very well written character and the perfect example of someone lost in their own town. His time in Italy has alienated him from the people he grew-up with, as things seem to have changed and become so corrupt that he barely recognizes the town anymore, doesn’t know who to trust and has only his common sense and determination to keep him sane. Vlad’s mother acts as a sympathetic victim of her own greed, as she steals Madam Tirescu’s expensive clothes, only for them to cause a physical reaction and make her sick. She returns everything she took from the estate, except a red cardigan that she really wants to keep, and so replaces it with a shabby one of her own. When the dead wife returns home she notices this and, zombie like, visits Vlad’s mother to literally eat everything she can in the poor woman’s kitchen, an allegorical act if ever there was one. Meanwhile, Constantin lurks around the local church, corrupting the priest and planning revenge in a pretty complicated plot surrounding the reign and fall of communism and the effect it had on the local population in terms of in distribution of land and wealth.

Far from a conventional horror film, Strigoi weaves dark comedy with small town corruption, mystery, intelligent characterization and drama. Each character, from Vlad’s eccentric grandfather to the stressed cop trying to keep everything level, are recognizable; but writer/director Faye Jackson takes them in directions that were unexpected and original (and in the case of the grandfather, really very touching).

Vlad and his mother are the key characters and the story shifts between Vlad’s investigations to his mother’s desperate attempts at keeping the Strigoi occupying her kitchen happy, and the last scene in the film is one that they share, as the film comes full circle and ends on a bizarre but fitting note. I can’t give it away, but that last scene is what earns this film 8/10, it’s the best I’ve seen in a long time and I left the cinema with the goofiest smile this side of Manchester.

On leaving the theatre I went to the press area and introduced myself to Faye Jackson, shook her hand and got her email. Interview will follow - anyone got questions; my email is on the Team Page.

I have to say it: I loved this film.

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