The Vourdalak

The Vourdalak is one seriously cool horror movie. Based on a novella that was written before Bram Stoker penned Dracula, this French chiller oozes atmosphere and introduces us to a vampire-like creature that’s even more disturbing than the traditional bloodsuckers. A Vourdalak, we learn, prefers to feast on its own loved ones rather than strangers. If you can imagine getting devoured by a family member – or causing a family member’s demise by devouring them - you’re likely to get some shivers from the film.

The Marquis d’Urfé (Kasey Mottet Klein) is an emissary of the King of France. He’s attacked while traversing the remote countryside, leaving him in desperate need of a horse in order to continue his journey. Fortunately, there’s a home nearby where he can ask for help. The family that lives there is willing to help him as soon as its patriarch, Gorcha, returns. It comes as a shock when, after a few days, he does come back because he no longer looks entirely human. He’s hungry for family members who displease him, too.

There’s an interesting approach in The Vourdalak. Gorcha is played by a very detailed puppet to convey his otherworldly appearance. That may sound silly, but the level of puppetry that brings him to life is astonishing. The artistry is so good that you quickly accept Gorcha as a character and buy into his interactions with the human actors. It helps that the puppet is, as the kids say, creepy AF. His menacing face and jerky movements render him a uniquely unsettling figure.

Director Adrien Beau knows what he’s doing. The tone is ever-so-slightly heightened, as if the movie is almost but not quite taking itself seriously. That quality adds to the eerie vibe in an ironic manner. In telling the story, Beau continually contrasts the unfailing formality of Marquis d’Urfé with the unpleasantness of what Gorcha does. The Vourdalak therefore achieves a feeling where you’re disturbed, yet almost want to chuckle at how the rigid hero responds to sights so far beyond his comprehension.

The Vourdalak also benefits from excellent production design and cinematography that perfectly set the mood. Klein seals everything up with a performance that nimbly ties together the combination of dark humor and macabre plot developments. There’s nothing traditional about the film. It’s original and ambitious, and it hits you in a different way than most horror movies do.

out of four

The Vourdalak is unrated, but contains strong language and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan