Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Kiss Of The Damned

A Vampire Under The Influence

Kiss Of The Damned
USA 2012
Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Disney Blu Ray Zone 2

I’ve become somewhat jaded over the last ten years or so to the vampire genre. I went on record a couple of years ago saying that, over the last decade, there have only been four really decent additions to this particular niche of horror fantasy that I know of which are worth crossing running water for and they are Let The Right One In (reviewed here), We Are The Night (reviewed here), Byzantium (reviewed here) and Only Lovers Left Alive (reviewed here). After seeing the trailer for Kiss Of The Damned, a relatively recent vampire movie written and directed by John Cassavetes’ daughter Xan, I was hoping to add another to that short list but, for all its strengths and charm, I don’t think it quite makes it but... it’s definitely got an interesting vibe to it, that’s for sure.

After some establishing shots of a lady in a white house, we see that she is a vampire and follow her first attack on... something... out in the night. This first vampire kill of the film, like the majority of them in this picture, is not particularly graphic in nature and is more composed of a kind of abstract impression of violence, rather than outright showing the fang to flesh ripping so common in modern iterations of the vampire myth. It’s actually an interesting way to do it and I might normally applaud that approach but, it has to be said, I didn’t find this nearly as effective at clarifying or conveying the raw nature of the kind of violence associated with this ‘after dark’ species and... well... something didn’t feel that right with this approach here, for some reason. Maybe it just wasn’t shocking enough in terms of the way it was edited. Who knows?

The name of the vampire in question is Djuna and she’s played here, very intriguingly, by Joséphine de La Baume. She soon hooks up with an equally astonishing actor, Milo Ventimiglia, who plays a writer named Paolo, who she meets by chance when she’s returning her videos one night at her local rental store. She tries to warn Paolo about her ‘not so available because I’m a bloodsucking vampire’ status but, after some persistence on the part of the young writer, she caves in and lets him into her place for a second time.

She does her best to practice safe sex with him and, in this case, safe sex means she’s spread eagled and chained to all corners of her four poster bed in a vision of BDSM style loveliness while the wordsmith has his way with her but, as he becomes attached to her during their sexual relations, he frees her and she bites him in her passion... vamping him up and turning her new lover into one of her own kind.  Which is nice and he fits right in with her social circles of various vampires who have been walking among us for centuries. And since he writes at home, he doesn’t even have to change his work routine too much now that he has, because of the whole allergic to sunlight thing, become a bit of a night owl.

But of course, all dramas have to have a challenging element to upset the status quo and, just like the aforementioned Jarmusch film, Only Lovers Left Alive, it comes in the shape of the main female protagonist’s bratty vampire sister, who has to come and stay with them for a week or two while a new safe haven can be found for her. That’s when the complications begin, of course, as sister Mimi (played by Roxane Mesquida) is, at best, a trouble maker and, at worst, someone who threatens the status quo of not just our two blood crossed lovers but the whole existing vampire society on the planet.

The film itself is absolutely beautiful to look at, I have to say. The shots are filled with bright colours and the director chooses different palettes for different scenes and, coupled with some clean compositions, things look a zillion bucks. I know everybody has been getting tired of blue and teal and the various variations of that colour combination over the last 25 or so years in Hollywoodland but there are some truly great orange versus blue set ups here which really play against each other to make those colours pop.

The compositions are, as I said, very clean and tidy in their design, demonstrating a meticulousness almost bordering on obsession and it makes for some nice moments of linear beauty throughout the film. For example, a shot looking down a staircase might have made Hitchcock proud. There’s a beautiful shot, too, of the two main protagonists making love in what appears to be a slightly blurred blue wash and we then realise we are watching them through the other side of an aquarium with the fish and their environment in sharp focus against the two vampire lovers.

Everybody looks really good too and it’s like we've been invited to a party where all the ‘beautiful people’ are attending. Some of the dialogue is quite interesting, exploring the politics of the vampire world and the cocktail conversations about just who got here first on this planet... humans or vampires... are kinda interesting.

However, the film has some minus points too. By about the half way mark it kind of goes downhill a little and... well maybe I’m being too demanding but it just didn’t seem to be exploring too many new territories, instead allowing the natural path of the ‘story’ take over in a less interesting way than the carefully observed details of the world building had made their mark in the earlier scenes. Also, the score is mixed a little too loudly in some places and obscures the ability to easily hear certain information, it seemed to me.

All that being said, however, Kiss Of The Damned is still a nice little vampire movie and while it’s not one of the absolute best in recent memory, it’s still standing head and fangs above the majority of those made in the last ten years and I really loved what looked like an homage to Jean Rollin in terms of the typography on the end credits. So, not exactly the best vampire movie I’ve seen but certainly something I would recommend to enthusiasts of the genre if they are running on empty to get their next fix. I think the director has a lot of promise and I look forward to seeing more of her movies at some point.

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