For all that Russian cinema has done over the years, horror apparently isn’t in that field. According to just about every source I could find, it took until 1967 for Russia to make its first horror film, Viy. Regardless of its genre, Viy shows a cultured and developed mentality of filmmaking, along with a wicked premise, even if it ends up muffing it a bit in the execution. Not to mention it takes forever to even get to the premise in the first place. Seriously, for a film that’s only 78 minutes long to take a full half hour to actually get to the plot seems rather unthrifty, but this one does apparently follow its source material quite closely, so that could be to blame. Still, while the idea was a nice one, the film seemed to not know what to do with it, and ended up barreling forward anyway, with the result being not quite what one would expect.
The film follows Khoma, a monk in a seminary, as he is made to recite the Prayers over a young maiden’s corpse over the span of three nights. The maiden, however, is a witch, and over the three nights she tries just about everything to get Khoma to step out of the protective circle of chalk he has drawn around himself, including and leading up to the summoning of a horde of demons on the third night, led by the titular Viy. In addition to taking far too long for its running time to get to the premise (the film, up to then, is mostly Khoma and his monk friends traveling and encountering various people, including the witch before Khoma meets her as the young maiden), I made mention that the film is very roughshod in how it goes about executing its premise. Instead of focusing on the three nights that should form the centerpiece of the film, it instead dances around the Khoma character and his slight buffoonery, offering ample screen time for the alternate scenes of his antics during the day, which provide no real elaboration or expansion of the night scenes. It’s pretty much just goofy little Khoma being goofy little Khoma. Even the night scenes are very brief and one-note, not offering a real back-and-forth between Khoma and the spirit maiden that would make for really engaging viewing, as the maiden tries every conceivable means to get Khoma out of his circle, which isn’t what ends up happening. Plus, the ending was very rushed, I felt; though the practical makeup and effects used for the demons in the end sequence would make Guillermo del Toro proud.
This is another one that, with some retooling, I could easily see remade for a more accessible English-speaking audience. The premise is there, it was just the film’s execution of it that I wasn’t sure was the right decision. Now, I still liked the film, and that plus its good effects work and short running time is largely why I gave it the rating I did, but don’t go into this expecting more out of an awesome premise, like I did. As much as I did enjoy it, I felt I was disappointed more, and I even began thinking of ways in which, if I were to helm a remake, I would make the film better. It might be more Hollywood than this was, but in Viy’s case, that may actually be a good thing to add to it.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10