Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Bloody Fierce Productions and Writer/Actress, Sarah Giercksky for allowing me access to an online screener of her debut feature-length Swedish Horror film “Sargad”, Directed by Andres R. Ramos. Sargad centres around a young woman named, Elina (played by Giercksky herself) whose headed to a secluded cabin with her sister Lily (Tindra Hedlund) and their mother (Alicia Henriksson) to spread their recently deceased father’s ashes and to say goodbye. The family of women soon find themselves in a fight for their lives when they encounter a trio of twisted brothers led by, Marcus (played by Krister Forsberg). The film also stars Jesper Hell, Oscar Rusanen, Xander Turian and Birgitta Nord. I initially began networking with Sarah mid 2017, after she was kind enough to review my debut short film “After Hours” which screened at Elmsta Horror Fest. I’d seen some of her posting about Sargad and it sounded like a solid genre film so I thought I’d return the favor and check it out.
It’s important that I begin by disclosing that Sargad is a micro-budget feature film (with a price tag estimated at just $3,000). Now with that said, there’s been a number of rather impressive micro budget films so don’t let it discourage you from checking this one out. Sargad sees the pairing of Andres Ramos and Javier Ehrlin try their hand at cinematography for the first time, and all things considered the result is quite a reasonable one. For the most part the framing is decent and the camera remains fairly steady throughout, given that the film appears to be almost entirely handheld. The mix of conventional score and pop rock music from Swedish band, “Our Untold Story” worked surprisingly well. There’s some nice light piano often playing in the background to accompany the more emotional scenes, then the themes get fittingly darker as the drama unfolds. The performances in Sargad are probably the films strongest attribute, particularly Giercksky’s leading role. Sarah’s chalked up a number of acting credits in the world of shorts over the last few years, but with her own material she’s able to give a more natural an even performance than one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a film of this nature. Forsberg’s, Marcus being the face of the opposing family, has to carry an emotionally charged demeanor for almost the entire duration of the film and he does it well. The brother characters (played by Hell and Rusanen) aren’t given as much to do action wise, but they’re still serviceable, so to Tindra and Alicia. The interesting thing about Sarah’s script is that although it masquerades as a revenge flick, it’s actually more of a story about loss and acceptance than anything else. It wasn’t until I did some digging that I discovered how much of the basis of it actually centers around events and details from Sarah’s own life. The action is relatively scarce but there’s a few standard kills and some practical blood on display during the last act. The best kill involves the male appendage (I’m sure you can guess what might have happened)
There’s a number of specifics in the script that defy logic or are problematic, but mostly it’s the sub par execution of all the technical facets that hold Sargad back from being anything noteworthy (though to be expected somewhat). The cinematography isn’t without its focus issues now and again, and there’s a back and forth between Elina and Oliver (Turian) outside where the camera gets quite jerky. There’s often a lot of clipped audio between shots and transitions of scenes, not to mention the audio levels overall are inconsistent (at least through standard computer speakers channeling the left to right). The timing of the foley effects don’t match the impact hits, most notably in a scene where Elina swings a bat several times into the face of one of the men, it’s completely out of time. In fact, sizeable chunks of it don’t seem to have any sound bed at all. Most of the film takes place during the day, although it’s hard to know with the constant variation in lighting, especially in the interior scenes. Everything is incredibly flat inside the cabin’s ground floor, with seemingly only one diminished overhead light above the kitchen table which lights a three-way conversation that occurs two times throughout the film. Elina and Oliver sit around a fire at one point opposite Lily and Aga (the mother), while one side of the conversation appears adequately lit, the other you can barely make out the actors faces. I enjoyed the score but the one thing missing was an upbeat composition to complement the revenge aspect of the film. Given Giercksky’s MMA background (mixed martial arts), I was rather disappointed with the lack-lustre choreography designed for the fight between Marcus and Oliver. The execution comes off rather cheaply and staged and it’s over damn quick.
Most of the dialogue flows organically but there’s a few sections where the phrasing doesn’t translate how it should or the wording is out of sequence (at least to an English ear). Questions could be asked of some of Elina’s decision-making, as well as individual moments from other secondary characters. For example, it’s never explained why Marit (played by Nord), once a godmother figure in Elina and Lily’s lives, would have her entire property boarded up. Her sudden need to protect Elina at the beginning does make sense once her arc comes full circle, but I can’t see her reason for preparing the house for a doomsday apocalypse? After a pointless excursion to a hilly area somewhere on the property, I guess to sneak a smoke? Elina tells Lily not to venture off into the woods on her own, yet the very next day she randomly declares that she’s going to get firewood. I must say that said firewood turns out to be the world’s smallest (think twigs). Seemingly insignificant but entirely controllable details like that can drive a film’s value down. Elina only emerges as a thinker once the film conveniently calls for it. After being wounded, which might I add doesn’t occur until three-quarters way through the film, I was hoping she’d display some resourcefulness and wrap the hole with an item of clothing that she was initially stripped of, but alas. Instead, she hobbles back to the cabin carrying her jeans rather than wearing them or using them. Giercksky does redeem herself a little though by having Elina later utilize a stapler in a cringe inducing but necessary manner. I understand the need to give her an arc that comes full circle, but the joy in which Elina takes in offing these men seems out of character given her soft exterior and everything we’ve seen of her before.
Sargad is an ambitious Horror film from Sarah Giercksky, a true fan of the genre and a young women with a lot of passion and a personal story to tell. Need I say that $3,000 of chump change isn’t a great sum of money to make your first full length feature with, but none the less I can respect the effort. The cinematography isn’t bad, the piano score works nicely and the performances are mostly dependable. The two standouts are certainly Sarah and Krister, and I like that it’s a personal piece about loss and acceptance and the conflict within that. The fan in Sarah still tips the hat to revenge films like “Last House On The Left” and indies like “If A Tree Falls”. With all first attempts, and particularly ones of the dollar store variety (so to speak), they may be weighed down in inferior production quality, as is sadly the case with Sargad. The audio is patchy to say the least, some of the camera work is amateurish and the lighting is by far and a way the worst component of the film. It’s missing that element of suspense and some of the script details had me scratching my head. Most horror fans look for a strong protagonist, and while Elina does get the job done it’s a bit of a whip pan 180 from who she really seems to be. At 90 minutes long and with this kind of budget, the film could’ve been cut by 15 minutes and it wouldn’t have lost anything. A shorter setup to get to the action quicker might just raise the films stock a bit more. Even though Sargad didn’t do a lot for me, I can see potential in this cast and crew and there’s certainly a platform to work from. On a personal note, I want to say congratulations to Sarah on writing and acting in her first feature-length film because it’s quite an accomplishment. Feel free to check out the trailer below!
My rating for “Sargad” is 4.5/10