They save female-driven revenge movies is the hottest in exploitation cinema these days. Sweden’s most recent genre entry Sargad is part of that trend.
Written by and starring Sarah Giercksky, Sargad (a Swedish word meaning hurt, damaged, broken) tells the story of what happens when Elina, her younger sister and mother spends a few days at a cabin where their purpose is to spread the ashes of the late father and husband. During the ceremony, the three women are attacked by three brothers. From there it only gets worse – and as you may predict, nobody leaves with as much blood as they started with.
Sargad is practically a no-budget film made by what seems to be a group of friends and film fans with few technical resources, but with ambitions. You know, one of those films where the budget is made up of pocket money and 7 people share 30 positions in the credit roll. The film was reportedly made for 3000 dollars. The team has obviously watched a lot of horror movies and it’s always a good idea to channel one’s own inspiration on creative projects. Sargad is devised as a traditional revenge film, which, in a country where few horror films are made, makes it quite rare. The most famous example is probably the film-proper Thriller: A cruel story (1973) with the iconic Christina Lindberg, and we can’t forget the film that virtually created the whole genre: Ingmar Bergman’s The virgin spring (1960). Sweden thus has a small but proud tradition to defend.
On this level of film making, one has to make concessions for budget and technology. It’s more about the ideas, the passion and the playfulness than complex stunts and flawless images. Sargad looks trashy, there is no denying that. The actors are not particularly shining either, with the thankful excpetion of Giercksky’s leading role and the lead antagonist, played by Jesper Hall. They both deliver reasonable performances, and the way the film is written, it rests on their abilities. Giercksky in particular is credible as both the older sister and as the tough avenger, but make no mistake, there’s local amateur theatre all over this film.
In the action department, there are ample kills and bloodshed, with the highlight being the mutilation of a man’s favourite body part, a well staged scene. I was immediately reminded of I spit on your grave and The thrill of a kill.
The most interesting aspect lies in wether the film brings something conceptually new to the table, no matter how cheap the table is, so to speak. Concepts, ideas and themes do not depend on budgets, but can, in its simplest form, be talked about in dialogue that requires no money, just a bit of writing. In Sargad the story feels very personal and realistic in the sense that Elina is not some kind of Kill Bill action babe that puts on spectacular fights. In the great Swedish kitchen sink tradition, Elina uses household items as weapons. In one scene she mends her own wounds with duct tape, MacGyver style
The core premise of the film holds a twist that I won’t spoil here, but don’t let yourself be mislead by the film’s genre if your expectactions are not met. Said twist is part of the story, not a part of your preconceived ideas.
Some glaring plot holes are harder to defend; what’s up with those masks you’ll see in one scene? They’re not explained and they don’t return. Why is Elina’s first response a murder spree and revenge, rather than trying to escape and alert the police, in well organized Sweden, and not too far away from the road? Her acts of revenge seem well planned and executed in a cold manor. While that can be understood if one extrapolates from the violence and murder, it’s an undeveloped part of the story, and possibly even a character flaw, unless one imagines that she just snapped. Some trash film fans will also question why Elina does not take her bra off during a sex scene. In a gritty genre film that feeds off of exploitive scenes and expectations, braless is to be expected, but since this is a Swedish film, maybe it was a step too far in a women-empowering movie. Nudity is not the most common trait in Swedish trash and horror films, unlike many of its competitors from mainland Europe or USA, so for those in the know, it was not a surprise. And, come on, how can anyone think that tiny twigs are firewood?
There are also several problems on the technical side. While the framing of the scenes are adequate, audio and lighting falls short most of the time. In one scene, it seems to be daytime while two meters away it is almost pitch black. The images and colours are rather flat, and there are editing concerns, but none of this is part of the fake grindhouse tradition, as seen in The whore, so it can be a bit disturbing.
Making a feature film is a bit like jumping off a cliff. Unless you plan exactly where to jump, you will hurt yourself, but you can be lucky and crash in soft bushes. Sargad takes aim, jumps, but tumbles down a hill and is bruised and beaten and does not quite land on its feet, but still survives.
Directed by Andres R. Ramos.