I’m adding a new feature to From Dill To Dracula, which is reviewing forms of entertainment that have been created by or set in Romania. Interestingly enough, so far these tend to be movies of the horror variety, so they may not be everyone’s cup o’ tea. The first one I’m reviewing, in particular, They’re Watching, is more of a campy thriller, which is exactly my kind of horror movie. Think The Evil Dead meets Tucker & Dale vs Evil (also two fantastic movies if you have time).
Before I get into my thoughts, here’s the trailer to get you into the right mindset:
Yes… the trailer does say the movie takes place in Moldova, however, it was filmed exclusively in Romania. Methinks the Romanian government didn’t want a negative feature of their land and people via a western horror movie as the only idea people have about their country.
They’re Watching is a slow burn horror, capitalizing on the found-footage trend but doing it right. Oh so right. I attribute this to the twists they throw at you at multiple points in our journey. Misdirection at its finest, with the appropriate flair of comedy thrown in.
Our story follow a camera crew for an HGTV-esque global home improvement show, so, naturally, they’re filming every minute of their trip because I guess that’s what you do when you’re really into video cameras and what not. An American artist needed a change-of-scene from the nonstop city lifestyle she had, and so she buys and renovates an abandoned shack on the outskirts of the made-up-town Pavlova, Moldova. We return with the crew six months later to see how she turned a junky building into a quaint artist’s getaway. That’s how they get us back to Moldova, and we might not be able to leave it.
That’s how they get us back to Moldova, and we might not be able to escape it.
As the film crew romps through town (and they most certainly are romping, because this crew is made up of attractive young men and a model-worthy young woman who happens to be the niece of the boss). The villagers of this small, Moldovan town begin to stalk the group, angry with their disruption of sacred traditions and mocking the history of a witch burning.
Oh, did I forget that? Yeah. One hundred years ago the villagers believed a single woman, who lived in the outskirts of town, to be a witch. So, they burned her alive at the stake. Sounds familiar? So superstitions run deep in Pavlova. And our film crew quickly realizes that when their vehicle is destroyed and they’re stranded in the house they were sent to film.
That’s when the good stuff gets good 🙂 But I won’t say more, because I really don’t want to spoil this one for you.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this movie is a slow burn. A lot of filming each other and making fun of the towns they pass through. It’s not a very good depiction of Romania or its people, but there’s one scene I always get excited for: the town tavern. We visit it twice throughout They’re Watching and it’s the perfect recreation of an experience I wish I could have when visiting Romania. The tavern is small, homey, and filled to the brim with Romanian culture via the artifacts and tapestries hung on the walls. There isn’t much of a visual focus on the food eaten, but when the waiter sets it down on their tables she references quite a few dishes I’ll soon feature right here on From Dill To Dracula.
Additionally, the crew gets smashed on something I can’t imagine anyone enjoying: țuică (pronounced tzoo-ee-kah). It’s a plum brandy I remember simply smelling as a kid and triggering the urge to vomit. Think the worst cough medicine (for me, it’s Robitussin) and multiply it by at least one hundred. At least. I hate it so much I also make sure to feature it in my new book One Thousand Stars That Bind:
Glasses filled with different liquids surround the food, like crystal gems of various wines and grappa glasses with what I could only assume is țuică. I scrunch my nose. The țuică does not entice me from the cage; a meal finisher made from plums but tasted like a bitter, distilled cough medicine from the local apothecary.
But it’s nice to see this vibrant culture featured in something mainstream, even if it does try to make the Romanian/Moldovan people look like backwoods hicks.
So, have I swayed you to give it a shot?
Or have you seen it and loved/hated/were indifferent towards it?
Let me know in the comments below!
All movie stills copyright Best Served Cold Productions and Warsong Entertainment