By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Last month I received a couple of special invitations to review films not yet released in theaters and still seeking distribution. The first one was Bloodlands, an Albanian-Australian production from Aussie filmmaker Steven Kastrissios. The other was an Austin, Texas production titled Six Pack Sam, which I already reviewed. Aside from the indie productions I review at film festivals, I am always thrilled to give lesser-known filmmakers a chance to show me their work. With Bloodlands, I was instantly drawn to the film, as it is a horror film shot in Albania with Albanian actors in the cast. I, for one, have never seen an Albanian-made movie. Secondly, I do like a good horror film, and some of the better ones I have seen have come from countries other than the U.S. Bloodlands did not disappoint much, as it not only offers a fascinating look at life in Albania, it also makes for a gripping and creepy entry in the category of supernatural horror.
In an Albanian mountain village, Skender (Gëzim Rudi) and his family struggle to make ends meet. He and his son Artan (Emiljano Palili) run the local butcher shop, but barely have any daily customers. His daughter Iliriana (Alesia Xhemalaj) desperately wants to leave her home and has already made plans to move to Italy, against Skender’s wishes. Matron Shpresa (Suela Bako) supports her decision and constantly argues with Skender about their financial woes. When Skender and his family cross hairs with a group of seemingly benign derelicts, this triggers a nasty feud between the family and the band of vagabonds. However, there is much more to this family of feral homeless people than what appears on the surface. When the feud gets violent, and a figure from the past resurfaces, Skender and his family must come to grips with whom they are really fighting.
Based on the violent history of Albania, a country known for its blood feuds, and the supernatural folklore of the nation, writer/director Steve Kastrissios has crafted a dark and atmospheric movie that is heavy with mood and tone and builds slowly to its big reveal. Kastrissios keeps most of the film grounded in the gritty bleak reality of poverty in Albania and skillfully builds on that setting to take his film into more sinister and supernatural territory. The cinematography by Leander Ljarja and the work of the art and production design departments help Kastrissios create his striking and ethereal visuals. Though the film’s climax and ending doesn’t quite satisfy completely, the journey there works as an effectively mysterious and ghoulish nightmare. The movie also features outstanding work by the Albanian cast.
As of yet, this film has no distribution deals; therefore, Steve Kastrissios will continue to work hard to get his film screened at more special screenings and perhaps, more film festivals. So far it has played the Glasgow Fright Fest in Scotland and the Nashville Film Festival where actress Suela Bako won the Best Actress award. Bako is definitely deserving of praise for her work and Bloodlands is a movie that deserves to reach more audiences. Kastrissios will next show his movie at the 21st Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in Bucheon, South Korea next month. TVR will keep its readers posted should the film enter other film festivals or get a distribution deal for theatrical or digital release.