The Vourdalak is a dark tale of tragedy, where duty and folklore clash when an isolated family invites an ominous presence into their home

The Vourdalak
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Vourdalak is the debut feature from director Adrien Beau, who also co-wrote it with Hadrien Bouvier. It is based on the novella The Family of the Vourdalak by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy. Beau stars in the film too as the voice of Gorcha, which he does excellently with a powerful and fitting performance for the character.

The Vourdalak

The film opens in the dead of a dark and stormy night with an external shot of someone unseen behind the camera banging desperately on a door. Eventually a window in the wicket door opens revealing the face of the home-owner (credited as L’ermite (Erwan Ribard, Benedetta, La Question humaine, Sydney Film Festival, 2007)). Sporadic flashes of lightning reveal the shadow of the unseen figure against the door as he pleads for shelter and aid, explaining he was attacked by bandits who have killed his escort and taken all of his belongings including the horses.


The home-owner responds with reservation, the first words leaving his lips are for the stranger to keep on his way, saying ‘we open this door to no one’. He advises the stranger to take the path west to the house of old Gorcha who will help him, finally he says with great conviction that he should stop for nothing, for ‘the forest seethes with danger’ before bidding him adieu. This first scene absolutely oozes with atmosphere and builds a solid foundation for what the audience needs to know to understand the rest of the film.


We then cut to daylight revealing an elaborately dressed man stumbling through the forest, the Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d’Urfé (Kacey Mottet Klein, Ride Above, and The Happening, AFFFF 2023, Farewell to the Night, AFFFF 2020), a name by which he will introduce himself as, frequently and in full, although with decreasing confidence and bravado as the film progresses.


After some time, the Marquis hears the sound of a woman singing. Seemingly enchanted by the song, he goes to seek the source. Considering the warning given by L’ermite, this is the first of many situations in the film where you wonder if things are about to go very wrong for the Marquis d’Urfé, and it will keep you engaged throughout. This set-up is excellent for making the Marquis somewhat of an audience surrogate, particularly as the film progresses and he finds himself in stranger and stranger circumstances.


Eventually he finds the source of the song, and we are introduced to Sdenka (Ariane Labed, The Lobster, 2015), who after spotting the Marquis watching her from behind a tree, runs away as he gives chase. He then stumbles across her sitting facing away from him, but as he goes to turn on his noble charm to introduce himself, the person turns and almost instantly he finds a knife to his throat. This is not Sdenka. We are thus introduced to Piotr (Vassili Schneider, Notre-Dame on fire, AFFFF 2022), who likes to dress as a woman. At the mention of Gorcha, Piotr lowers his blade and agrees to take the Marquis to Gorcha’s house.


The Marquis has had a hell of a night, and a hell of a morning, and things are only getting started. Having had the seed that there could be danger around any bend planted in your mind, by the time the Marquis enters the house, he is clearly unsure what to expect, and so too will you be. A tense and unsettling atmosphere is an understatement.


Here the Marquis meets the rest of the characters in the film, Jegor (Grégoire Colin, Paris Memories, AFFFF 2023, Both Sides of the Blade, AFFFF 2022, Proxima, AFFFF 2020), his wife Anja (Claire Duburcq, Brother and Sister, AFFFF 2023, After Blue: Dirty Paradise, Fantastic Film Festival 2022) and son Vlad (Gabriel Pavie). The Marquis also spots Sdenka, and discovers that Sdenka, Piotr and Jegor are siblings and Gorcha is their father. Jegor, as the eldest son, considers it his duty to be strong and protect the house and family, an ideal that will ultimately cause the opposite. Gorcha unfortunately is not there as he has gone off to fight, leaving a cryptic message behind.

The Vourdalak

Shortly after, Gorcha returns, and this is where things ramp up and the horrors begin. The reactions of everyone (the Marquis especially) when they share a meal with the returned Gorcha are excellent, as it is quite clear something is very much not right with him, yet they cannot say anything because if they do, Jegor or Gorcha himself, will put them in their place. This conflict between the mystical and superstitious side of Sdenka and Piotr against their elder who is guided, and misguided, by his duty and honour make for a seriously uncomfortable few days for the Marquis while he waits for a horse so he can head back to Paris.


While everyone in The Vourdalak is very good and plays their part well, Kacey Mottet Klein, as the Marquis, does a brilliant job of mirroring the feelings the audience will most likely be experiencing, as he shows trepidation, and flicks between confusion, cowardice and half-baked courage. After all, the Marquis has come from a world of safety and opulence whereas the others have lived in dangerous times, dealing with great loss and just trying to survive, it’s natural their characters would have stunted emotions to work with.


The visuals of The Vourdalak are quite unique for a modern film. In general, it has the look and feel of something from the 70’s but with the practical effects and puppetry from the late 80’s early 90’s, Gorcha, in particular, reminded me a lot of the Crypt Keeper from Tales of the crypt which I loved as a kid, with his arms kind of flailing about and having a really unnerving jitteriness to his movements. I think his performance is done via a mix of both puppetry and some stop-motion, but either way it’s very eerie and unnatural, but also a bit comical as he lies in the uncanny valley. Regardless, I loved it. I’m pretty sure all the effects in the film are practical, and I think they needed to be for the way the film is shot. It’s both refreshing and nostalgic.


There are also nods to classic horror scattered throughout, most are very subtle, maybe a sign of Adrien Beau wanting to show respect to the things that have inspired him but not rub it in your face or use it as a crutch. I think Beau has been very clever with this film, focusing on a small but excellent cast, and a vision that fits while also probably not costing a fortune. I wish we got more of this in the horror genre, instead of non-scary CGI miscellaneous monster that looks terrible screaming at you from behind a door every 3 minutes to keep you awake,


Despite being labelled as a horror film, there isn’t really much of what some might consider horror in The Vourdalak. It is indeed very eerie with an uncomfortable atmosphere and horror themes, but if anything, I think what will stay with me most is the concept of love in all its forms… well that and a scene that has unfortunately carved out a spot in my mind forever.


The Vourdalak offers a refreshing take on horror, borrowing from countless things that have come before; it is in essence an ode to horror, from folktales to classic film and all that lies between, and while not ignoring completely modern film, the pieces Beau has decided to use fit entirely within the scope of his film and how it presents itself, well aware of what has come before it. I have a great respect for Adrian Beau after seeing this and I can tell he put a lot of heart and soul into The Vourdalak and I hope he makes more films in the genre.


While it can be a bit of a slow burner at times, its charm will stay with you for a while and you’ll find yourself liking it more the more you think about it. If you like horror that isn’t just jump scares and gore, or maybe don’t like horror but enjoy a tense atmosphere, good acting and want an experience that’ll stick with you, I absolutely recommend checking this film out.


Bruce Bordelais watched a screener of The Vourdalak


WHAT: Fantastic Film Festival 2024

WHERE: Melbourne and Sydney

WHEN: 17 April – 10 May 2024

HOW: Purchase your tickets for The Vourdalak via this link

Multiple ticket passes can be purchased here for Lido in Melbourne and here for the Ritz in Sydney


There are a variety of ticket options.

Single tickets for non-special events

  • Adult $25
  • Concession $19.50
  • Lido, Ritz & Thornbury Picture House members $18.50
  • Groups of 20 or more $16 per person


Special Events:

  • Opening Night — Adult $35 / Concession $29 / Members $28
  • Closing Night — Adult $38 / Concession $34 / Members $33


Fantastic Film Festival 2024 Passes

  • 5 film pass $85 ($17 per ticket)
  • 10 film pass $155 ($15.50 per ticket) (not available at Thornbury Picture House)
  • VIP film pass $255 (Valid for 1x redemption on every film. Includes Special Events) (not available at Thornbury Picture House)

The Vourdalak is just one of 9 French films screening at the Fantastic Film Festival. Find out about the others in our article


For more events with links to France and the Francophonie happening in Australia this month, check out our What’s on in April

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