When a family’s sadness is turned into a violent episode, one young woman will take the power back in order to avenge some serious wrongs in the brand-new Swedish Horror/Thriller, Sargad, which travelled the festival circuit and arrived on DVD in North America on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 thanks to World Wide Multi Media.
At a family cabin in the Swedish forest, Elina (Sarah Giercksky: Rotten Love short 2017, Mimes short 2017) has come to spread her father’s ashes in a beautifully peaceful spot that he loved near the lake. Along with her mother Agnieszka (Alicia Henriksson: Anya short 2012, Behind My Eyes short 2013) and younger sister Lily (Tindra Hedlund: Kluven Dröm 2017, A.Z.A.B. 2018), Elina is hoping for some quiet family time so that the three can respectfully lay their father to rest. Unfortunately, a routine trip to visit their neighbor Marit (Birgitta Nord in her acting debut), to borrow a carton of milk, quickly raises some serious questions about the goings on in these woods.
Though Elina happily reunites with childhood friend Oliver (Xander Turian: The Question short 2018, Carnival Row series), she is also forced to come face to face with a group of thugs – de factor leader Alexander (Jesper Hell in his acting debut) and his sidekicks John (Oscar Rusanen: A.Z.A.B. 2018, Thorqus short 2018) and Marcus (Krister Twizz Forsberg: Shane Ryan’s Faces of Snuff 2016, A.Z.A.B. 2018) – who are creating a truly ominous presence in this once peaceful wood. In the words of Agnieszka: “The forest is full of animals.”
Clocking in at 93 minutes in-length, Sargad (which translates to “Wounded”) is a feature-length debut for Director Andres R. Ramos (Man in the Forest short 2013) and was written by lead actress Sarah Giercksky. Billed as a Horror/Thriller, it’s important to note that Sargad is not necessarily a traditional Horror/Thriller, in the American sense of the term. Until the very end of the film, the focus here is largely on the emotional aspects of the violence, and not on splattering blood everywhere and vividly depicting brutality. Of course, there is fairly graphic, cringe-worthy violence – including one scene that will horrify male viewers – but, again, by American standards, Sargad goes less for exploitation, instead opting to focus on the humanity of the violence.
To further explain, Sargad – which is presented in Swedish with English subtitles – is a revenge Horror/Thriller in a similar vein to 1978’s I Spit On Your Grave or 1972’s Last House on the Left, but largely lacking in the exploitative gore of these other films. Do not misunderstand, however: there are ample amounts of blood spilled here – including a creative use of a stapler – but the focus of the film is not so much on the sadistic torture of victims, but rather, the emotional toll of their crimes.
There are a myriad of issues throughout the film, including some audio issues (mono audio in some scenes) and a script that could definitely use some tightening. While there are also some acting flubs and some continuity errors, by and large, Sargad does a lot with very little and never feels cheesy due to its low-budget. In fact, where so many indie Horror offerings lack in their special FX makeup, Sargad often excels – even if the blood is a bit too orange.
Much like the film itself, the cast of Sargad are a mixed bag of talents. In the lead role, Giercksky paints Elina as a relatable young woman, a sympathetic character who has just lost her father and has come to the forest to scatter his ashes in peace. When everything devolves, and a switch is flipped for Elina, Giercksky’s vengeance, despite being quite colorful in one scene, never fully feels passionately protracted; at times, Giercksky’s Elina is stone-faced, emotionally numb and going through the motions of revenge. Somewhat conversely, Nord’s Marit is one feisty rifle-packin’ mama who is fully fierce, making her performance one of the most enjoyable in the film.
As bad guy Alexander, despite the irony of his name, Hell is not sufficiently convincing as a sadistic, domineering leader. While his performance is certainly not laughable, and he gives the role his all, he’s simply unconvincing as a twisted criminal. Rather, when his scenes take a more emotional turn, and he plays a distraught son, he is better able to fully portray the range of emotions necessary to properly relay his lines. His sidekicks, Rusanen (John) and Forsberg (Marcus), are unfortunately given very little to work with, and their flat-characters are largely just cannon fodder.
While some revenge films, 2018’s aptly-titled Revenge comes to mind, can feel empowering for women, Sargad feels less a brutally gratuitous reprisal than an emotionally-weighty comeuppance. Giercksky has written and starred in a film that takes the focus away from the guts and gory, and instead places it onto the human toll placed upon character. Forced to fight back and taking little pleasure in her exploits, Elina is just doing what she feels is necessary to expunge a trio of reprehensible souls from the forest, setting the world back to rights.
Sargad does a lot with very little and, in the world of indie Horror, you have to respect that Ramos and Giercksky have kept their film from ever feeling ridiculous or laughable. There is an intensity to the tale that overwhelms any of the little errors herein, one that will hold your attention for the film’s duration. That is more than can be said for many, and so Sargad stands as a testament to good things to come from this talented duo. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Sargad 3 of 5 stars.