Review: Capra cu trei iezi (2022)

This has to be the first Romanian (folk) horror movie I’ve ever seen and I’m glad to say that it stands as an equal to modern horror movies all around. Victor Canache has taken Ion Creangă’s fable and turned it into a haunting tale of family, solitude and pure evil. But like the best of pure evils, the story always retains a connection with reality, which makes it even more sinister.

Canache first released this movie as a short in 2019 and thankfully found the resources to flesh it out into a feature film. It tells of a lone mother in 19th century Romania, who lives an isolated life between valleys and forests, while taking care of her three children. Two of them are true rascals, disrespectful, mean-spirited and lazy, while the third is the cream of the crop, a mamma’s boy in the best of ways. Alas, living alone makes them vulnerable to the whims and dangers of the world, none greater so than fellow man – a wolf of a man, as it were, preying upon them.

Tragedy ensues, but no bad deed is left unpunished. My standout moment in the movie is one where the wolf brings up an old folk saying which really sent a shiver down my spine – “rău cu rău, dar e mai rău fără rău”, which in a contextual translation sounds like “it’s bad to live with a bad person, but its worse to live without anyone”. The normalization of abuse is a historical fact, but it takes on a very distinctive power in this scene, setting the movie in line with what has been a sadly universal theme of recent-day cinema.

Maia Morgenstern is one of the better known Romanian actresses internationally, thanks to her part in The Passion of the Christ. Here she plays a strong, independent woman, judged for the traits that make her stand out, through no fault of her own – again, very topical. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of Morgenstern in general, because she has a grand way about acting, but the performance here brings a kind of old-school gravitas that suits her role very well. Marius Bodochi, on the other hand, I knew little of and he plays one of the most subversively menacing villains I’ve seen in a while. His performance is perfectly balanced, eminently psychopathic while still leaving room for the human being beyond “the wolf”. Alongside the veteran actors, the kids are alright, as the saying goes, young Antonio Gavrilă doing the heavy lifting among them and doing it convincingly.

There’s also a formless character in Capra that demands attention – the atmosphere. It sure helps that the movie is very well articulated throughout, both visually and musically, as Canache plays off familiar rhythms to create this haunting pocket of life in the middle of nowhere, Romania. Which might just as well be the middle of anywhere, Romania, to be blunt.

If there’s something that left me wanting, it’s that a few moments feel ever so slightly off-key and the ending lacks staying power. I had a sense that there could have been more to the finale, a bit more “pop” as it were, instead of a wavering and underwhelming slow-mo leading to a neat wrap-up.

This aside, Capra cu trei iezi is a must-see for any fan of Romanian cinema, any fan of horror movies and any person fortunate to be found at the intersection of the two. 8

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