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The Vourdalak Review: A Puppet-Tacular Twist on Vampire Tales

Courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

By Amylou Ahava


Directed by Adrien Beau, THE VOURDALAK (Le Vourdalak) is a vampire tale adapted from Aleksey Tolstoy's novella, "The Family of the Vourdalak," (which significantly predates Bram Stoker's Dracula). So, by pulling from very old source material, it can be assumed this film will present a very different type of vampire story. And it does! Just not for the reason you might suspect. 


The story follows the misadventures of a French marquis who seeks refuge with a peculiar family, only to discover their dark secret: they may be turning into vourdalaks! And the part that really sets this film apart from others is that the villainous vampire is played by a puppet. While the film explores creative avenues with its puppetry and humor, it struggles to find its footing and tends to wobble between horror and comedy. It’s a film that bites off more than it can chew, but its unique approach and creative spirit are worth appreciating.


The narrative unfolds as the French marquis, Jacques Antoine Saturnin D’Urfe (Kacey Mottet Klein), finds himself stranded in a remote village where he seeks shelter after a harrowing encounter with brigands. He stumbles upon a fairly odd family whose patriarch is absent on a quest for vengeance. As Jacques settles in, he encounters a cast of characters, including Jegor (Gregoire Colin), who is married to Anja (Claire Duburcq), and their son Vlad (Gabriel Pavie). 


Additionally, there's the captivating Sdenka (Ariane Labed), whose role mostly involves commenting on Jacques's ridiculous and out-of-touch behavior. While Jacques's character comes off as somewhat whiny and lost, Sdenka absolutely slays in her role as she brings a mysterious and alluring presence to the screen. And amidst these interesting characters, one family member stands out for obvious reasons: Gorcha, whose return transforms the family dynamic in a chilling (yet campy) way.


In THE VOURDALAK, the real MVP isn't an actor—but a puppet! Gorcha is played by a skeletal puppet (voiced by Beau), who is like the Crypt Keeper but with a decent skincare routine. The life-size marionette doesn’t have any strings to hold him down, and his Nosferatu-esque features give a mix of quirkiness and creepiness. 


Courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

Casting a puppet as the lead was a bold choice, and it's unclear if it was the right one. Some might find it offbeat, but others will appreciate the risk and creativity. Either way, a puppet vampire definitely sets this movie apart from the usual blood-sucking tales. It's a puppet-tacular twist that adds strings of intrigue to the film's gothic atmosphere and proves that this unique choice has become a fan favorite in the theatre.


The puppet portraying the Vourdalak steals the show, bringing a unique and eerie charm to the film. However, the story feels drawn out, focusing too much on Jacques and not enough on the titular vampire puppet. Furthermore, the narrative gets a bit sluggish, and struggles to decide if it wants to be a horror, a comedy, or a straight drama. It's like the film can't decide whether to vamp up the scares, puppeteer the laughs, or pull the heartstrings. While the puppet is a fang-tastic addition, the story could have benefited from more focus on its undead star, and this indecision leaves the film feeling like it's caught in a web of genres.


Aside from the puppet, LE VOURDALAK presents some visually stunning moments that capture the eerie, gothic vibe you'd expect from a Jean Rollin movie (Requiem for a Vampire, The Living Dead Girl). While the setting and scenery are well chosen, the cinematography is not quite polished. The film tries hard to create this atmospheric feel synonymous with gothic landscapes and vampiric lairs, but too often, the shots become blurry and out of focus. And when you're watching it on a big screen, these issues become even more obvious. It's like looking at blurry fangs in a foggy mirror, which creates a bit of a distraction from the atmosphere and the story at hand. 


Overall, THE VOURDALAK is a film of highs and lows. Its quirky charm and moments of genuine humor make for an enjoyable (if uneven) viewing experience. The puppetry is superb, and the humor hits the mark, but the stretched-out story and blurry cinematography drag it down a bit. But honestly, despite its flaws, THE VOURDALAK dares to be different. The performances (both human and puppet) deserve your applause.


This fresh (albeit flawed) take on the vampire myth is worth watching for its unique approach. So, let's hope THE VOURDALAK opens the door for more puppet roles in the future—after all, they deserve a string of successes!


THE VOURDALAK played as a part of the 2024 Chattanooga Film Festival. The film opens exclusively in US cinemas on June 28th from Oscilloscope Laboratories.




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