Part family drama, part horror, part comedy, part real estate swindle story, Romanian film Strigoi is a bit odd, and difficult to categorize. But, despite its disparate elements, it succeeds quite well at what it attempts, and provides an hour and forty five minutes of engaging entertainment.
Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) has just returned to the small village of Podoleni, where he grew up. He had been in Italy, presumably trying to forget his failed career as a doctor. He's quite squeamish, and uncomfortable around blood or dead bodies, which makes for a difficult time as a physician. When he returns, he finds that everyone in the village is acting quite strangely. They all have new shoes, or clothes, or kitchen appliances, and are all quite evasive about where they got them.
Where they got them was from the home of the richest couple in the village, Constantin and Ileana Tirescu (Constantin Barbulescu and Roxana Guttman), whom they had executed after an extra-judicial trial, and buried in unmarked graves, looting their home in joy afterwards. No one mentions the Tirescu's deaths, and this does not seem strange to Vlad, as he speaks to a quite lively Constantin in his home about the death of his grandfather's neighbor Florin. Constantin and his wife have both returned from the dead (it would seem) and are working to get their vengeance on the villagers who killed them, along with being voraciously hungry, which is common for strigoi, a common word for vampire.
While the rest of the village is worrying about being drained of blood, Vlad is intent on investigating the death of Florin. Vlad's name was put on the death certificate as the attending physician, even though he was out of the country at the time, and he is determined to find out what really happened. Along the way, he discovers irregularities in the land records, properties showing sold when their owners never would have, or actively declare that they didn't. The scheme is tangled up with a corrupt mayor and a degenerate priest, and acquiesced to by everyone in the village for one reason or another, except for Vlad's grandfather Nicolae (Rudi Rosenfeld).
Vlad is close with his grandfather, who had lived through world wars and oppression by the communists, and is cranky about everything. Strange things seem to happen at his house. Cigarettes and dogs disappear, and odd bloody marks appear on Vlad's body when he sleeps there. The old man is a little odd himself, and may have more sinister motives that it at first appears.
Strigoi is a film about absurdity and fatalism, about a group of people to whom horrible things have happened for so long that they have come to see them as inevitable and embrace them with humor. Vlad is unsure of what to do through most of the film, as more and more injustice and death surround him. He asks his mother how he should proceed late in the film, and her only response is to start dancing. Vlad stands apart from this attitude, perhaps because he has been mocked all his life as a "pussy" by the whole village for his squeamishness. He is the figure that the audience can empathize with and follow through the land of surrender to fate, the only person who seems to act with nobility or honor.
The film is full of subtle humor and great performances. Every one pitches in their bit to make the whole a successful endeavor, but Catalin Paraschiv as the bewildered young man determined to do the right thing is the standout. The makeup effects are understated but entirely believable, and the take on vampirism is original and fun. There are even a few moments of tension and dread, though these are not the focus of things. Strigoi is a fun, inventive film, obviously made on a low budget, but using every penny to its fullest potential. Highly recommended.
The image is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic, and has some minor issues, mostly with graininess and posterization. The colors are rich and deep, though, and the film looks quite good overall.
The audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and is generally fine, though no subtitles are included. The dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. No alternate language track is available.
There are a few extras included with the feature. They are:
Lump (Short Film)
This short runs to almost twelve minutes, and is a creepy little gem about a woman who keeps having to go back to the doctor to have a fibroid tumor removed from her breast. This is a genuinely creepy, almost Kafka-esque (if I'm allowed to use a cliché) tale, and told very well. Very nice.
At almost four minutes, this is a gallery of stills from the film. Slight.
The trailer runs for just over a minute, and is quite good.
Breaking Glass Trailers
Trailers are included for Breaking Glass releases The Coffin, Dawning and Exit 33.
Strigoi is a subtle film, and certainly not for those looking for a whiz bang action film or a gore fest. But it works very well in its little niche in the horror genre, using its quirkiness as an advantage. The characters are brought to vivid life, something not always found in this kind of film, and they are all fascinating. This is a fun film to watch.