This French Feature Debut Bites Back At The Mundanity Of Modern Vampire Movies


  • The Vourdalak is a vintage-looking French horror film with a unique vampire concept, set in a picturesque European countryside.
  • The film’s cast creates intricate relationships, and the story is well-paced with a clear focus on character development.
  • The Vourdalak showcases practical effects and a strong emphasis on light and shadow, setting it apart from modern horror movies.

While watching

The Vourdalak

, it’s almost a stretch of the imagination to believe the film initially premiered in 2023. What I witnessed could easily have passed for the 1980s or late ’70s, and I say this with the highest compliments. Reminiscent of a time gone by, The Vourdalak was shot on film, truly earning the vintage look with real grain and harsh shadows that only elevate the stylization of the project. It stakes its claim as a French movie everyone should see and as the perfect summer horror movie for film buffs and casual viewers alike.

Few of the best vampire movies of the past several decades have come close to capturing the magic that The Vourdalak oozes in every frame. Set against the backdrop of a gorgeous and sparsely populated forest in the European countryside, The Vourdalak is unafraid to make even its most chilling scenes aesthetically captivating. Written and directed by Adrien Beau, The Vourdalak marks the filmmaker’s first feature-length project but is indicative of the work of a visual artist intimately familiar with his craft. Though The Vourdalak is well aware of the vampiric legends that preceded it, it’s strikingly original.

The Vourdalak’s Cast Creates An Intricate Web Of Overlapping Relationships

Despite its limited characters and locations, the film never lacks plot or intrigue

The story is predominantly told through the eyes of the Marquis d’Urfé, an envoy of the King of France, who seeks shelter in the home of a strange family after being robbed. He’s played by Kacey Mottet Klein, who has no trouble balancing the deeply pathetic and heroic sides of the man. The Marquis sticks out next to the countryside dwellers he takes refuge with, continually donning his white makeup and courtly clothes even as the danger of the vourdalak grows increasingly apparent. He maintains the facade of “civilized” society’s reach long past his point of no return.

The family’s dynamic is strained even before Gorcha, the father and head of the household voiced by Beau, arrives in all his ghoulish glory. Even in the daylight, there’s an underlying threat of violence, as the story is entwined with the raids and ravages made by the Turks that are never shown onscreen but consistently referred to. War, honor, and the masculine imperative to fight for one’s family are impressed upon the oldest brother, Jegor (Grégoire Colin), who is the last to accept that Gorcha is no longer the father he knew.

We know who they are and how they feel about each other almost instantly, which is no easy feat and something that mid-level horror movies consistently fail at.

Jegor’s role as would-be head of the family is juxtaposed by the spiritualism of Piotr (Vassili Schneider) and Sdenka (Ariane Labed), his younger siblings. It takes little time for the relationships between characters and their histories to be established. All of this occurs with sparse but brutally effective dialogue that ensures we’re invested in the lives of these characters. We know who they are and how they feel about each other almost instantly, which is no easy feat and something that mid-level horror movies consistently fail at. Our curiosity is piqued enough to justify the necessary exposition.

Consuming media in the 21st century means there is an inarguable inundation of vampire media and lore. However, The Vourdalak differentiates itself from the start. It’s difficult to decide if it’s more chilling or tragic that the vourdalak seeks out those they loved most in life to join them in death. To call The Vourdalak a vampire origin story would be a disservice to the legend-making material of the script. There are clear connections to vampire mythology, but the vourdalak is something more primal, closer to the animalistic tendencies of humanity than we care to admit.

The Vourdalak Makes A Case For Practical Effects With Its Light & Sound

Where modern horror movies rely more on VFX, The Vourdalak pulls back

Though the story and character relationships are fantastic, it’s in the visual realm that the movie soars. There’s no need for overreaching and gimmicky jump scares, as The Vourdalak does more with light and shadow than most films do with a fleet of VFX artists. It will be a long time before I forget the reveal of Gorcha being portrayed solely by a life-sized puppet and the film’s acceptance of this into the reality of the story. The puppet is not designed to be overtly realistic or indistinguishable from a human — that would defeat the purpose of using a puppet.

However, his power is felt, and the threat he poses to the characters is never called into question. Power and the way it’s wielded over loved ones is an essential theme in the film. The Vourdalak is an indication of where modern horror movies should be headed. I was moved not by the gruesome violence of the story but by the devastating tragedy akin to a Greek drama. The Vourdalak doesn’t need graphic cruelty to get its point across, as the movie and filmmaker understand that there is even more devastation to be found in the dark.

The Vourdalak will be available to watch in theaters on June 28th.

A noble emissary of the King of France, the Marquis d’Urfé, finds himself lost in a hostile forest and seeks refuge in an eerie, isolated manor. Inside, he encounters a mysterious family harboring a dark secret. As night falls, the family’s patriarch reveals a terrifying tale of vampirism, hinting at his own transformation into a vourdalak—a vampire that preys on loved ones.


  • The Vourdalak’s use of light and shadow is remarkable
  • The film’s practical effects are stunning and eerie
  • The story is tragic and easy to be invested in from the start
  • The dialogue is sparse but effective

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