Monday, December 17, 2018

Vurdalaki – review

Director: Sergey Ginzburg

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

This review comes with a health warning, as it were. I managed to stumble over a stream of this Russian film online. I then managed to find English fan-subs (with much searching). Those didn’t work but a bit of dibbling with the coding on the srt got them working (though I had to put a seven second delay on them). At first they seemed reasonable but as the film progressed it became obvious that some were literal translations and some simply gibberish. There was enough to get a fair grasp of what was going on but I will re-review this when I eventually find a DVD with properly constructed English subtitles.

The other reason that this was recognisable – in part at least – was that the film was loosely based on the Alexis Tolstoy short story the Family of the Vourdalak and whilst the lore and events were dibbled with it was still there. Of course that is where the original title of Vurdalaki comes from – it has also been released under the monikers of Prince of Darkness (Fürst der Finsternis) and Ghoul.

Lavr slays the vampire
It starts with a graveyard and a woman stands next to a grave marker that seems to bear her likeness. A monk, Lavr (Mikhail Porechenkov), walks to her and asks whether she cannot sleep. She suggests she has a troubled soul and asks him to pray for a family member. He recites the Lord’s Prayer and, as he concludes, drops a stake from his sleeve and lunges just as she vamps out. He stakes her but as she dies she announces that the Master is coming. Her corpse disintegrates.

Igor Khripunov as the servant
A carriage is driven through the village and people seem to avoid it. At the rear we can see it carries a coffin. As night falls the carriage is in woodlands and a bat flies by the worker that the driver (Igor Khripunov) has paid to help him. The worker calls the carriage to a halt and suggests the road will take the driver to his destination but he will go no further. He scurries off but the driver seems to move with unnatural swiftness (he isn’t a vampire, rather the vampire’s servant). He mentions the payment the worker is owed and also the carriage’s load. The worker didn’t know it contained a coffin.

tree hugging vampire
The driver opens the coffin and a colony of bats explode out, killing the worker (who’ll be soon up and about as one of the undead). The vampire Master – the Baron – appears old and withered but touches a tree (the tree changing from silvered bark to a brown bark) and becomes younger, declaring himself home. They go up to a castle and he uses a rod to open up an arcane, coffin-shaped contraption that reveals a goblet of blood. His plan is to bring about the resurgence of the vampires through a ritual involving a village girl Milena (Aglaya Shilovskaya) in a few days as there is a rare celestial alignment and an eclipse.

Aglaya Shilovskaya as Milena
Milena, the next day, is speaking to her little nephew as they watch the goats, and he asks for a story that night. She realises that a goat is missing and rides into the forest, finding it on a gravemound, where it seems to have partly sunk into the earth. She tries to pull it out but a bat buzzes her. The goat is sucked fully into the grave. She rides to Lavr to tell him – it is the grave of a young girl Marica, who died recently and the grave’s cross has gone.

A Tsarist official, Lyubchinsky Andrej Vasilevich (Konstantin Kryukov), arrives at the monastery with his servant Paramon. Lavr was exiled to this place but he is being summoned back to the city. He refuses to leave, intent instead on making stakes. As the officials leave they pass a lake that Milena is bathing in and she injures Paramon as he tries to spook her. They take him to her home that she shares with her father, Gorcha, brother Georges and Georges’ wife and son. Almost the same family unit as in Tolstoy’s tale (only another brother is missing) it won’t come as a surprise that Milena and Andrej quickly fall in love.

Marica throws Georges
The lore is very different, however… as well as summoning bats (and transforming into them, it appeared), the vampires burn in sunlight and avoid religious items. When Marica returns from the grave we see that they are super-strong (and later we get some vampire warriors who seem supernaturally ripped with extensive veins showing). The need to feed on immediate family is either gone or not mentioned and the fate of the family is dealt with very swiftly. The big change is that Milena is a moroi – Bane suggests that “The rarer moroi {is a} (“living male vampire”)” and is the child of a vampire. In this the Baron attacked her mother whilst she was in the womb and she has been born half-vampire (ala Blade). She has no vampiric traits (bar absorbing bat’s blood if touched with it) but the ritual will convert her to a full, daywalking vampire.

the Baron in repose
The parting with the lore and story offered by Tolstoy allows the film to move to a more action/adventure stance and it doesn’t necessarily suffer for this. There was a chemistry between the leads and Lavr reminded me of Brother Sandor from Hammer’s almost namesake film Dracula, Prince of Darkness. However, the action adventure side does mean the horror aspect is underwhelming – a shame as some of the night photography is rather atmospheric. The parts around the vampire warriors were confusing – but that I think was due to poor subtitling and this overall is a nice slice of action vampire flick. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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