From the movie poster for SPOOR (also known as POKOT in the original Polish), you’d be forgiven for assuming this was another Polish werewolf story. It is instead the story of a dotty old lady named Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat) living in the woods and clashing with local poachers and the police, politicians and clergy who seem to back them. She is ignored and mocked by all in her plight, save for a small clutch of friends (including a neighbor, and entomologist, the police IT guy and the wife of one of the first victims), each healing from their own trauma.
When the poachers and their enablers start dying one by one, Duszejko falls under suspicion of being a serial killer, though she adamantly points to animal tracks (“Spoor”?) at the sites of the murders and spins the theory that the animals of the region are enacting revenge on those that have been killing their kind. She finds very little sympathy for her views, but is unlikely suspect and so remains out of the jail cell.
Duszejko is an interesting character. She teaches English to grade school kids (though she confides later that she has no credentials). She often recites extremely detailed astrological predictions explaining how people die, explaining that this or that conjunction points to death by a head wound from an animal, for example. She seems to see flashbacks of people’s childhood traumas — though it is never addressed whether this is a psychic power, a flashback depicting things she already knows or suspects, or merely a device of the film. She loves her dogs and when they disappear she turns to the local priest for comfort, but he chides her for treating animals like humans and calls it a blasphemy.
She is a bizarre Miss Marple reporting the death of animals to the police as murders, and they roll their eyes when she walks in the door and says, “this is going to be good!” She’s a Polish Ruth Gordon in a down parka. She is ultimately the source and center of a story that is engaging ina way many Hollywood films are unable to manage.
Spoor is Polish, with English subtitles. Personally, I like foreign films in part because their actors are allowed to be dumpy and have bad skin. The film is gorgeously shot in the forests of Poland, with so much wildlife footage it makes me nostalgic for old National Geographic documentaries. The sound design is alternately intense and charming, and always feels just right for the scene.
This could be a buddy film, a romantic comedy, a revenge film, an allegory, a police procedural, a supernatural thriller or a serial killer tale. The focus is so resolutely on the individual, close-up characters, it keeps it from becoming muddled and confused. The events may mix genres, but the people are true and real and their lives are inviting and fond.
The bad-guys/victims are a bit cardboard by contrast. The corrupt mayor, the poacher who runs a dirty fox farm and a brothel, the police chief on the take, and so on. As the film is largely from Duszejko’s perspective, it is possible this is a slightly unreliable narrator.
Spoor has a medieval feel even though it is thoroughly modern in a world of cell phones and laptops, and is ultimately charming in the face of gory murders one after another. Something for everyone, as long as you can handle subtitles.
8.5 out of 10 Vengeful Prey