Writer/Director: Steven Kastrissios
Starring: Gëzim Rudi, Emiljano Palali, Suela Bako, Alesia Xhemalaj
Reviewed by: James Ackland
Playing a limited engagement at the DENDY NEWTOWN as part of A NIGHT OF HORROR FILM FESTIVAL
Tradition repeats. It’s the nature of tradition. Tradition persists and evolves. We hand them down. We don’t forget. In Albania the Kanun is a set of laws. They are passed down orally. Traditionally.
Honour, Hospitality, Right Conduct and Kin Loyalty
In a small Albanian town where malnourished dogs scavenge for scraps of food, where the sky moves with foreboding colour and the wind whispers like a curse. A family on the brink of losing their business become the focus for a mysterious clan, some say led by a Witch (Shtigra) high up in the overbearing mountains. All these traditional laws are tested in Bloodland.
Skender (Gëzim Rudi), father and owner of the local Butcher shop is struggling to make ends meet. Modern Albania is facing hard times. If they have one more month of underwhelming income they’ll lose the business. Add to that the imminent collapse of the family unit as his children are growing and looking for a better future elsewhere and his wife is dissatisfied with the life that has befallen her. In his frustration he provokes some vagrants who are stealing from this rubbish. This confrontation reignites a feud that at its core challenges the traditions held so dear, but that must be met in order to survive.
The Witch's litter of young, dirty and hungry children are sent out to haunt and taunt the family. Aiding to further divide and destroy the family who are already barely able to hold themselves together. Old tales of a Witch in the mountains are told and then told to be ignored. But the symptoms that befall the family cannot be explained, ghosts from the past resurface and it becomes clear that a curse is in play.
The thought of a Witch up high in the forested mountains, casting spells, watching through her coven of underlings is truly creepy. Like all good classic tales, the Witch's shadow is seeped over the land. It infects the soil and the souls of all around. This is masterfully captured in Bloodland. The windswept terrain of Albania is perfectly cast. From the decaying township to the black-Forest-esque mountains around Tirana, the effects on the town is bleak and cold.
The picture is mostly devoid of warmth. Stark and cold, the film only gets darker the further we journey up the mountain. Quick picture cuts add to the unsettling nature and some had me very nervous. Frames and actions half finished, teasing glimpses of shadows and movement.
Mixing tradition and multiple horror genre tropes fuels this Albania/Australia co-production. It seamlessly mixes the creepy supernatural with a home invasion movie. Only to quickly switch to a helpless rescue and revenge flick. Director Steven Kastrissios has balanced all these with a deft eye and ear. Following up from 2008's The Horseman, Kastrissios has created a very tense world with a hypnotic colour pallete and haunting edit style. Music and sound design also deserve a special mention. While the picture may be cold, it gets a whole lot colder with the addition of a truly chilly score and sound design. The near constant effects of wildlife and wind help shape this film to a felt starkness.
The cast provide a fantastic realistic performance here. Balancing Shame, paranoia and naivety and resolve. Gëzim Rudi as Skender is great at trying/failing to hold everything together. His pure frustration is understandable and relatable. Emiljano Palali as son Artan and Alesia Xhemalaj as daughter Iliriana provide the warmth that is their curiosity and desire to leave and grow. Suela Bako, mother and wife is powerful as matriarch Shpresa. Fully convincing and a character that you can , empathise with and pull for.
Keep an eye on Director Steven Kastrissios. He's sure to continue on an impressive journey!
Bloodland is playing at the Night of Horror Festival in the coming weeks.
DON'T MISS IT!