Monday, August 27, 2018

Gogol: Viy – review

Director: Egor Baranov

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

Regular readers will know that I adore Viy and have a soft spot for the filmed versions. The Russian 1967 movie, Viy, is one of my favourite films.

This is a strange beast for a few reasons. Firstly, although it had a theatrical release this is actually chapter 3 and 4 of an on-running series, which was preceded by Gogol: the Beginning. The intention is to run the full series as a TV season in Russia after the first 3 of 4 2-episode parts are released theatrically. I hadn’t seen the first film (ie chapters 1 & 2) so there were aspects to this I wasn’t au fait with – but rest assured you’ll pick up the inter-relationships as you watch.

Alexander Petrov as Gogol
The chapters are loosely based on Gogol’s work but Gogol (Alexander Petrov) himself is a character – a special investigator working on an overarching case of girls being murdered by a demonic horseman (Valery Rybin). Gogol has powers (he, for instance, has visions) and a drowned girl, now a water nymph called Oksana (Yuliya Frants), is prepared to teach him how to use his powers – though she is interested in him and jealous of the married Lisa (Taisiya Vilkova) who is an unrequited love. The first story in this release is Enchanted Place, a story of magic, demons and ritualistic murder.

The second chapter is the one based on Viy and it is recognisable but very loose (with a major piece of the horseman puzzle going on alongside). The witch in this is a young woman and we do not see her in the form of the crone, as we do in most straight versions of the story, nor does she hagride anyone. The Blacksmith’s daughter (Martha Timofeeva) sees her using magic (levitating dumplings) and also sees a dog being bled (to paint runic marks identifying the location of victims on behalf of the demonic horseman). This leads Gogol to her but, when he enters her house, a mysterious stranger is stabbing her in the heart with an aspen stake. Her assassin knocks Gogol out and escapes.

silver nail
As well as being staked, the witch has been nailed through the hand with a silver nail (in order to incapacitate her whilst she is staked) but both the nail and (definitely) the stake feel more vampire genre to me. Gogol deduces that the assassin was conducting a ritual and he will return to finish it. He does and he is captured. The assassin is Khoma Brutus (Aleksey Vertkov) but in this he is no ordinary Seminarian, rather he is an exorcist with some outstandingly athletic combat moves. By the removal of a magic wooden hand (I am aware of how that sounds) he is able to escape and take Gogol prisoner – convincing him that they must finish the ritual in the church, force the witch to summon the demon Viy and then deal with the greater evil.

at throat
So, there isn’t a three-night vigil in the church, rather it is a one-night ritual but what is interesting is that the witch, when she resurrects (bearing in mind the stake is removed), does produce a mouth full of fangs and her nails lengthen into quite the weapon. We also see her bite a throat and there is blood around her mouth. So, whilst we do not get the actual blood drinking episode that is mentioned in the original story or the energy vampirism (from her at least), which is common in film versions of the story, we do get imagery that is definitively vampiric and I would say she very much has that witch/vampire thing going on.

the witch
I really enjoyed this – despite not seeing the first two chapters. The acting was good, the effects were too and although the kung fu moves of Khoma could be deemed as a bit much the overall atmosphere and look of the show is fantastic. No overt vampirism in this but definitely tropes and enough, given the source, for me to just go with it as a vampire in the film. It left me wanting to see the whole series. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.
DVD and Blu-Ray available on e-bay at time of review.

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