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Strigoi (2009)
Director: Faye Jackson

review by Max Cairnduff

There's been a bit of a Romanian film renaissance recently. Examples include: The Death Of Mr Lazarescu; 12:08 East Of Bucharest; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; and of course Police, Adjective which I've previously reviewed. I could easily list more titles. These are good films, some are exceptionally good films, but what they are not is light-hearted films. The Romanian cinema which reaches us here in Britain is solidly social-realist in tone. Strigoi is a departure from that. It's British-Romanian - directed by Faye Jackson in English but with a Romanian cast. It is comedy horror, but the comedy is dark and distinctly political and the horror is low-key and light on gore. If you're looking for undead action this is definitely not the film for you.

The film begins with Constantin Tirescu (Constantin Barbulescu) and his wife kneeling in front of open graves in the middle of the night. Constantin is rich and a big man in his village. He's thought to have killed an old man he was having a feud with, and for the villagers it's the last straw. With the blessing of the local priest everyone is gathered to see him and his wife dead and buried. It's a shame the gun brought for the purpose of execution won't fire, but a spade to the back of the head does the job just as well - if perhaps a little more slowly.

The next day, Vlad Cozma (Catalin Paraschiv) returns to the village from living in Italy. He's a young man, a failed medical student, and while he's made no success of himself he does know something's up when he comes upon the wake being held for the murdered old man and notices strangulation marks on the corpse's neck. Vlad is convinced that Constantin killed the old man (just like the villagers were). He doesn't understand though why the villagers don't want Constantin investigated for the crime (he doesn't know they've already killed him for it). He goes to Constantin's house to talk to him, and Vlad understands even less why the villagers are so terrified when he later tells them that Constantin was at home to receive him.

'Strigoi' is usually translated from the Romanian as vampire, but this isn't Bram Stoker or Stephenie Meyer territory here. Constantin and his wife are perpetually hungry living corpses - a sort of cross between vampire and zombie. They don't seem wholly aware that they're dead, and being dead hasn't really changed them that much anyway. When alive they fed off the villagers by charging them ruinous rents and exercising corrupt power over them. Now they just feed off them in a more direct way.

In a less interesting film Vlad would fight the monsters and all would be well. Here though it's not absolutely clear that the strigoi are the real problem facing the village. Did Constantin kill the old man? He denies it, and he doesn't seem to have much reason to lie anymore. As Vlad investigates he finds a web of conflicts over potentially valuable land rights. Constantin is a monster, but he may not be the killer. Strigoi is a darkly funny film. I loved scenes such as the one where a local woman is visited by a strigoi and has to feed it everything in the kitchen for fear of otherwise becoming dinner herself. It's visually quirky (without being annoying) and the dialogue is enjoyably wry. That said, it can at times be confusing and it is a little overlong and would perhaps have been better if cut back to around the 90-minute mark.

If you're inclined to look for deeper parallels they're easy to find. A Romanian community finds that killing a dictator doesn't cure their problems, that the past doesn't stay buried and that greed and corruption can be just as deadly in their new free society as they were under the old autocratic one. For all that though, it's the wit and the quality of the acting and direction that makes Strigoi worth watching. This is an intelligent film that will reward more than one viewing (and that probably needs more than one viewing to understand some plot elements), and which I can easily see getting a bit of a cult following. It's not going to give you nightmares, but it is original and originality in horror cinema is always welcome.

My copy of Strigoi came with the trailer and a ten-minute short by Faye Jackson titled Lump - a nastily effective little medical horror film, and a nice addition to this DVD release.

Strigoi



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