Vlad returns to Podoleni Village, a small little Eastern European town that's like any other, and things seem normal until Vlad sets out to look for his grandfather's missing dog. Running into different villagers and learning about the untimely death of one sends Vlad into the middle of a mystery involving murder and strigoi. Believed only to be a myth, Vlad dismisses the idea of a strigoi in the village as being silly superstition but the further he delves into the dark underbelly of his home town the more he realizes it's not just a myth.
"Strigoi" is the feature-length film debut for British director Faye Jackson and for her first feature-length movie she takes on the Romanian myth of strigoi. Now strigoi are also known as vampires but they aren't quite the same as to what we consider vampires to be today, or rather what western culture has turned them into. Strigoi are considered lost souls; people who return from the dead because they fell they've been wronged. But in a small twist they can also be alive as well -- in the movie they make mention that a person can be born as a strigoi. The main thing about the myth and culture of strigoi is that they tend to live off of the blood of others. So when they say that "Strigoi" is a very different kind of vampire movie, they aren't kidding.
Much like "Aswang", "Strigoi" separates itself from other vampire movies by taking on another culture's mythos of the undead blood suckers (The strigoi is a real Eastern European myth and legend that still affects modern times.) but also because "Strigoi" is not really a horror movie. The movie claims that it can't be classified and that's not exactly true; this is a black-comedy through and through but it's one of those movies where the storyline is in the subtext. The story is about a young man named Vlad; after refusing to follow in the family footsteps of working in the medical field he goes off to Italy to make a life for himself. When that doesn't work he moves back to his small village and lives with his grandpa but things are not as they once were. Villagers start turning up dead under questionable circumstances and isn't before long Vlad is throw into the middle and investigating these deaths which lands him on the doorstep of the Tirescus. The ex-Communist couple who own most of the land in the village and whom themselves are acting very strange, especially with their constant huger and desire to consume. The dead villagers lead to the Tirescu family and the Tirescus lead to Vlad to uncovering shady politics with land and homes being stolen out from underneath people. If that wasn't enough there is one or more strigoi hidden amongst the villagers, whether Vlad wants to believe it or not.
Now when I said that the movie is in the subtext I should have made the snotty comment and said supposedly. "Strigoi" is a very intelligently and well written movie; there is no denying that, but a lot of people harp on the fact that the movie contains a message within the story and a social commentary. Because it contains those items "Strigoi" is this amazing and incredible movie but for me, it actually doesn't change anything or make the movie amazing. The themes, metaphors, and commentary are far from subtle -- the movie pretty much wears its themes on its sleeve. It's more than obvious that the strigoi themselves are a representation of politicians and governing officials and its commentary has a lot to do with family and new generations clashing with the old.
Having intelligence in a story never hurt anybody and you do need it to break away from all the mindless movies out there. Just like how you need mindless movies to give you a break from all the pretentious filmmakers and arrogant movie fans who think because a movie has something to say, that it's brilliant. We've become complicit these days that if, supposedly, there is commentary, subtext, or a message then that movie by default is brilliant. This is not true at all, especially since a lot of the "messages" these days is the same shit we've been hearing for years. And I'm not trying to pick on or even bad mouth Faye Jackson or "Strigoi" because the writing in the movie was exceptional but the layers and underlying meanings did not add to the movie or do anything to make it stand out. It didn't hurt the movie either, by any means, but it's nothing but an additional element to the story that is simply there. That's how I feel though because to me the subtext didn't hold any significance to the movie at hand -- it wouldn't have changed anything if it wasn't there. It's great for people who want something like that in their movies but for me as a viewer it was irrelevant and did more to showcase Faye's writing ability than make the movie more meaningful.
Now as far as the movie itself goes; I thought it was okay. "Strigoi" is an interesting movie -- it is not a horror movie at all; everybody should be aware of that. This is a quirky black-comedy that serves more as a character study then anything else. Vlad is the main character we follow and for the most part the adventure he takes remains interesting and is mildly amusing but the rest of the characters are not. In fact a majority of them are all forgettable outside of Constantin Tirescu who is only interesting and entertaining when he is interacting with Vlad. My favorite character and ultimately the one who provides the most comedy in the movie is Vlad's grandfather who steals the show every time he is one screen. Sadly, in this black-comedy most of the actual comedy itself comes from one character. Or at least in my viewing experience it did. I've said it a thousand times before and it's something everybody knows, but comedy is subjective so I won't linger on about it too much. The comedy element of "Strigoi" did not work for me -- it is a very dry and subtle humor but the quirky scenarios and odd character interactions didn't provide enough humor for me to find the movie funny. It seems to have struck a chord with those who liked it but I found that the jokes and the comedy came up short and didn't meet the same standard and quality the overall story had.
I hate to say it because upon the second viewing I really was hoping I was going to like this movie but the only thing that I enjoyed out of the whole thing was the look. "Strigoi" is a very slick looking movie with wonderful cinematography that really brings out the world of these characters and the story. That's really the only true shining moment of the movie for me outside of two characters and some good writing. I've been trying to think of things I did like about the movie because it's one of those movies that is good even if I didn't care for it in the end, but sadly that's all I got.
I feel conflicted; "Strigoi" is a good movie. It's well made, the writing is there, the story is there, some of the humor was good, and it looked great but I just could not get into the movie. I rewatched it just to see if maybe I wasn't in the mood or simply not 'feeling it' at the time of the original viewing. Again, the second time around it felt like it took all day to watch the movie because there wasn't anything there for me. Even though I didn't like it I would probably still recommend the movie to folks who are interested in a new vampire movie that wants to tell a different kind of story. While "Dellamorte Dellamore" is head and shoulders above "Strigoi" I would even go so far as to say if you liked the former then you should check out the latter -- the mix of horror mythos with black-comedy and quasi art-house visuals definitely reminded me of Michele Soavi's movie. It's probably why I wanted to like "Strigoi" so much.