Review: Strigoi

The first Toronto After Dark world premiere graced audiences with a new, clever take on the vampire story.

Vlad has been away at college, but he returns to find the wealthy local landowner has died. As strange occurrences begin to plague the village, they realize they are dealing with a Strigoi – a being similar to a vampire that can be born or made. The villagers’ confidence in their folklore means there are rules and solutions for the situation. Vlad attempts to maintain a distance from his relatives and their illogical traditions, but learns eventually it is a part of who he is, not something to be escaped.

Strigoi is a stunning film shot in Romania and based in Romanian lore; however, the actors speak English (and not phonetically) because the writer/director Faye Jackson could not as effectively make the film in Romanian. The gradual unfolding of the story is engaging, as clues are slowly revealed to the audience and characters simultaneously; though some foreshadowing does occur. The mystery and the traditions are fascinating, as is Vlad’s attitude towards them. While it’s not a fast-paced adventure, the stride it creates is consistent and doesn’t feel slow. The comedy is dark and very Eastern European, meaning it is often blunt but funny. The music of the film is a wonderful mix of dance, gypsy and traditional folk sounds that brings additional life to the tale.

The characters are quirky and highly entertaining. The story’s matron, Mara, spontaneously bursts into dance, creating her own dance party in the living room. The incorporation of dance is a tribute to what was once the only form of individual expression under Romania’s many dictatorships. Mara also narrowly avoids being eaten by a Strigoi after it devours every edible item in her kitchen. Vlad’s grandfather is an understated man that still manages to establish a significant presence; his unvarying disdain for communists is also amusing.

Director Jackson’s feature debut is a true work of art that breathes new, intelligent life into the vampire genre. And what better way to celebrate a wedding anniversary with her producer husband Rey Muraru, than with a widely successful first-ever screening in Toronto.