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“The Vourdalak” & “Kinds of Kindness”

Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved
Atsushi Nishijima/Atsushi Nishijima
Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved

The Vourdalak

The Vourdalak, a French dark comedy-horror film, follows Marquis Jacques Antoine, a courtier and envoy to the King of France, who finds himself lost in a foreboding forest after being denied lodging at a nearby inn. The innkeeper ominously warns him to avoid speaking to anyone and to make haste on his journey home. Undeterred, the Marquis continues his voyage, only to encounter a mysterious woman singing in the woods. She brings him to her family's home, where they initially seem hospitable and kind, but soon, strange and unsettling events begin to unfold.

This film is a vampire story, based on a novella by Tolstoy from 1839 titled "The Family of the Vourdalak," predating *Dracula* by several decades. The Vourdalak defies easy categorization; it is beautifully shot on Super 16mm film, which imparts a timeless, vintage quality that heightens the overall surrealism of its world. Watching it evokes the sensation of a childhood nightmare, reminiscent of late-night channel surfing that led to stumbling upon eerie, captivating films while my parents slept and I stayed up too late, lost in a cinematic black hole.

Adding to the film’s unsettling atmosphere is the use of puppetry to animate the grandfather, rendering him grotesquely inhuman. While the special effects might not meet contemporary standards of realism, they contribute significantly to the film's eerie ambiance, enhancing its nightmarish quality.

The Vourdalak is a distinctive, at times terrifying, and at other times darkly humorous journey. It stands out refreshingly in today's landscape dominated by formulaic Netflix originals, offering a unique cinematic experience that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll.

Kinds of Kindness

Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos team up for a third time in their follow-up to the Academy Award-winning film Poor Things. This time, the duo brings in Jesse Plemons to stitch together a triptych tale of desperate love and the lengths we go to as humans to find genuine connection in Kinds of Kindness.

Kinds of Kindness is a bleak dark comedy that is sure to alienate many viewers, and it’s easy to see why. However, beneath its layers of strangeness lies a heart that beats with yearning and is drenched in pain.

The film is essentially three short films, which can sometimes disrupt the viewing experience, making it feel a bit disjointed. Despite this, once I adjusted to each narrative shift, I found the film as a whole to be richly layered. It balances moments of humor and darkness, creating an experience that is both enjoyable and deeply distressing. This film is another ambitious effort filled with interesting ideas and outstanding performances.

While Emma Stone receives a lot of focus, particularly in the marketing, Jesse Plemons is the heart of this film. His ability to toe the line between ominous and heartbreaking, funny and unstable, is a marvel to watch. Stone is also incredible, displaying her remarkable range, as expected from the team that brought us such an incredible character like Bella in Poor Things. Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, and the rest of the cast deliver stellar performances, though I wish we had seen more of Hunter Schafer.

Kinds of Kindness is a difficult film to recommend, but if you’re a fan of Lanthimos, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re open to a strange, pitch-black comedy that seems intent on unsettling you, this film might be for you. It certainly was for me.

Kinds of Kindness is now in theatres including The Alamo Drafthouse and Film Streams.

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Joshua LaBure is a documentary filmmaker, radio producer and podcaster based out of Omaha, Nebraska. His experience includes having directed and produced several short films, two narrative features and two documentary features, with his works featured at the Lone Star Film Festival, The Bureau of Creative Works and other filmmaker showcases. His most recent documentary had a sold-out premiere and received a standing ovation at the Benson Theatre. Furthermore, he founded the Denver Filmmakers Collective, which hosted local filmmaker showcases, has served on jury for major film festivals and has hosted countless film screenings.
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