Bloodlands (2017) [FrightFest Glasgow 2017]

An Albanian family with inner turmoil finds itself in the middle of a “blood feud” following a clan reputed to be connected to a mountain witch steals from their business.

Written and directed by Steven Kastrissios, Bloodlands’ story is based in the folklore and traditions of the Balkans with a blood feud creating most of the stress to the characters and conflicts. The film develops as a drama for most of its run time with a few bits and pieces rooted in the horror genre until the epilogue which falls directly and completely in the horror genre. His characters feel rooted in reality while going through hell and back. The family is not perfect, they have issues, they argues, they seem to only by together because they have to or because society says they should at times, which all leads to feeling like a lot of dysfunctional families out there and makes the characters feel real. The father is strong headed while the mother is a gossiper who gets a lot of crap for it. Their kids show interest in leaving their country or at least area which is something most teens/young adults go through. The film shows this family in a true light, with their issues, loving each other warts and all. This family is the root of the film and basically the root of the story in every way possible.

The cast for this family play their parts and sell this connection between them and their troubles with talent. The father Skender is played by Gëzim Rudi, an actor with only 6 other credits to his name spreading from 1985 to 2017, who does fantastically well here. He gives an impression that the character is very close to who he is in real life. Playing the mother Shpresa is actress Suela Bako who gives a conflicted yet protective performance. Her part is not easy, but she gives her all and comes across as a much more seasoned actress than her 12 credits on IMDB suggest. Playing their young adult kids Artan and Iliriana are Emiljano Palali and Alesia Xhemalaj both new and relatively new to the industry respectively. The choice of these two actors is perfect for the parts they have, Palali playing more of a dreamer and Xhemalaj playing her headstrong character with aplomb. The acting for the mountain clan is less seen but no less good. The whole cast here hits the right notes for the film’s tone and subject.

The film is shot in a particular way, giving it a look much of its own.  The cinematography by Leander Ljarja offers up a dark look on the Balkans and this blood feud.  The film starts off fairly bright and moves slowly towards darker hues and tones, instructing the viewer’s feelings as to the situation getting more serious, or darker.  The film does look good in all of this and focuses on the characters much more than the locations in terms of how it’s shot.

Bloodlands starts in and goes back to a slaughterhouse for sheep where sheeps are being dispatched.  This is some sort of warning to sensitive viewer as either the effects here are absolutely fantastic or these are real sheep being bled and skinned, something this reviewer does not appreciate watching one bit, so assumption of particularly great special effects was made to be able to keep watching the film through these sequences.  Later into the film, there are more typical effects for a horror film about a blood feud which will not be spoiled here.  These are done by Reti Mehmeti who does decently well on these.  The quality of these effects and their lower budget do lead one to think the aforementioned sheep may have been unfortunately real.

It must be noted that Bloodlands starts (at least on the review screener) with a note from the director explaining its style and what the film is about which feels like some sort of excuse or way to avoid criticism.  After watching the film, the note feels completely unnecessary and a bit insulting to the viewers’ intelligence.  The film is good as it is; an explanation is not needed and should not be needed.  Art is what it is and it will touch different people for different reason and a note on the film’s intent or direction is not something that feels needed at all by this reviewer.

Bloodlands is a good film with solid performance and talented direction.  The effects are not top during some of the scenes but they are ballsy and deserve some recognition.  The sheep issue aside, Bloodlands is a good effort for what is touted as the film Albanian horror film.