UK Release date: 22nd August 2011
Director: Faye Jackson
Starring: Constantin Barbulescu, Camelia Maxim, Catalin Paraschiv, Dan Popa
Running time: 101 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Just what the world needs, another vampire movie. Before you reach for the silver bullets though - consider this. There’s very little chance of bumping into a pale-faced, love-struck teen-idol in Strigoi. Romanian folklore dictates that strigoi are the troubled souls of dead rising from the grave. Occasionally they are living people with magical properties, including invisibility and the ability to transform into animals. Others like to drain the vitality of victims through bloodsucking - that would be your regular household variety then.
Strigoi is a vampire movie that defies categorisation, it’s set in Romania for a start. Vlad Cozma (Catalin Paraschiv) is a young man returning to his grandfather's village from Italy. Inexplicably, frying chicken in a fast food joint wasn’t job satisfaction enough for a guy with a degree in medicine. With barely a foot through the door, Vlad dives head first into investigating a mysterious death that raises questions about land ownership in the community. The trail points to the richest couple in the village, Constantin Tirescu (Constantin Barbulescu) and his wife, but when Vlad confronts them, he discovers they’ve been taking the term ‘bloodsucker’ a little too literally.
The fact that we see them being buried in unmarked graves at the start of the film suggests that something is amiss, but not to the local villagers, who seem more than happy to show off their new designer clobber to Vlad. None of the villagers mention the Tirescu's though, which doesn’t seem strange to Vlad, because he’s just been chatting to Constantin at his house about the death of his grandfather's neighbour. Florin has marks around his neck that suggest he’s been strangled, and Vlad immediately suspects that something is wrong. Furthermore, Vlad's name was put on the death certificate as the attending physician, even though he was out of the country at the time.
Strigoi dips its toes in vampire waters, but to call it a vampire movie would be doing the film a certain injustice. Along the way Vlad discovers irregularities in land records, a corrupt mayor, degenerate priest, suspicious village folk, unreliable police officers, disappearing dogs, vanishing cigarettes and the occasional dead man walking. You wont find any sour-faced heroines, naff CGI effects or topless furry beefcakes in this one, if you’re looking for the kind of vampire fix Hollywood has been feeding off for the last ten years, you’re sucking on the wrong vein. Strigoi has nothing in common with Twilight, belonging instead to a world that exists just off the beaten track. Not quite next door to Sweden’s Let The Right One In, but definitely on the same street - the focus on village locals is pleasingly reminiscent, even if it fails to find the beauty in its beast.
Faye Jackson keeps the horror to a minimum and instead focuses on the quirky character dynamics, helped along by a knowing cast who get the balance just right. Strigoi is a little too long perhaps - running the risk of stretching a twisty detective storyline past the point of breaking - but it’s also immensely enjoyable, thanks in large to a subtle sense of humour and understated direction. Performances are solid throughout and Strigoi impresses with its refusal to conform, making the most of a tiny budget, irregular characters and offbeat locations.
You’ll be hard pushed to find a fresher take on the vampire sub-genre this year, probably because it rarely feels like you’re watching another vampire movie. They are there though, you just have to look harder. Strigoi loses its bite as the smell of garlic looms overhead, but Faye Jackson has done enough here to suggest a healthy future in film - just so long as she stays away from tiny villages in Romania.