Plagi Breslau review – blood-spattered serial-killer thriller

Polish purveyor of graphic screen gore Patryk Vega unleashes another tide of visceral mayhem

Patryk Vega is the Polish writer-director whose muscular commercial ventures – spin-offs from TV hit Pitbull, medical procedural Botoks – have become appointment viewing for diaspora audiences and thus regular guests in the UK Top 10. Not for nothing does the logo for his production shingle Vega Investments feature a charging bull. His latest – translating, somewhat ominously, as The Plagues of Breslau – is a flat-out serial-killer thriller, 90 blood-spattered minutes that make those carefully designed Scandi crime dramas seem fussy and wussy. It opens with the graphic autopsy of an abattoir worker who was branded before being sewn alive into suffocating cow hide, the sole visual relief being a cutaway to the morgue’s greasy helix of flypaper. Everything that follows is similarly strong meat.

It has, however, been infused with an eccentric-to-distinctive local flavour. Where western variations generally feature chiselled, photogenic protagonists, Vega’s cops all appear to have been sleeping rough in their cars. Lead detective Helena Rus (Małgorzata Kożuchowska) might resemble an eastern European Jane Tennison were she not perpetually tired and crying, and operating beneath an undercut even Lisbeth Salander might think a little unforgiving. The superior parachuting in to oversee her investigation (Daria Widawska) arrives not in a power suit, but sweatpants and a sour expression. She does possess unexpected physiotherapy talents, though, and vital intel that suggests the killer is following Frederick the Great’s model in purging Silesia of its predators and degenerates.

Plagi Breslau.
Strong meat … Plagi Breslau. Photograph: Ravelart Violetta Muszynska/PR

It’s not always original, as Helena’s pursuit by a tabloid TV reporter would suggest. It’s not always entirely convincing, either. That hell-for-leather pace whisks us past the implausibility of a killer multitasking as a historian and blacksmith, but some of Vega’s dashed-off grue isn’t quite up to snuff. Yet his location work (spooking the PM at a speedway meet, making murderous use of a cycle path) is unusual and striking, and this verve in staging makes for a perversely enjoyable watch.

Offering a set-piece every 10 minutes, a twist every 30, it’s pure pulp, but Vega knows how to sell it, and there are pearls of wisdom amid the nastiness. You’ll flinch, you’ll squirm, you’ll learn how to increase your survival chances should you be doused in gasoline and set alight.


Mike McCahill

The GuardianTramp

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