Saturday, February 07, 2009

Thicker than Water: The Vampire Diaries, Part 1 – review

dvdDirected by: Phil Messerer

First Released: 2008

Contains spoilers

I mentioned this a little while ago and was contacted to let me know that, for a limited amount of time, the film had become available to watch for free in an online film festival. I settled down to watch this and was struck by a fine, character driven movie with some excellent performances and deeply black comedic elements that seemed wonderfully out of place in such an independent, low budget movie.

worshipping Anne RiceWe begin with scenes of a Mayan temple and talk of sacrifices to the Sun God, then move to Lara Baxter (Eilis Cahill), a young Goth girl almost 16. She has, in a chest, a shrine to Anne Rice and she also has a twin sister, Helen (Devon Bailey), who is a blonde cheerleader who teases Lara for 'worshipping Anne Rice'.

We settle down to the family dinner, with Lara as our guide. We meet her brother, and closet gay, Raymond (Michael Strelow) who has just won an award for a paper written to the neuroscience monthly journal about the use of lobotomy to tackle ocd. He tells the family this during a ritual the mother (JoJo Hristova) instigates called accomplishments. Vegetarian Helen’s accomplishment is having lost 2lbs. Lara claims posting a picture of her bottom on the internet. Mom and Dad (Anthony Morelli) announce they are going to split up.

Myles Angus MacVane as the store ownerWe see scenes of family members, for instance Raymond with his rubber band ball, and I was struck in all this at how well composed the film was. Even little meaningless asides added something to the film. Neighbours turn up to offer pie to the abandoned wife and Lara ventures into downtown Sugarloaf, New York, going to her favourite store – a curiosity shop run by a strange individual (Myles Angus MacVane).

the Book of OyaThe shop owner has just got hold of a book thought to be only a myth, the story of the vampiress Oya. Lara looks through it (it has some wonderful illustrations within it, by the way) and the story of Oya is peppered through the film thereafter – indeed the Mayan story, at the head of the film, was part of her story. The contents of the book explain later why Lara knows so much about vampires.

Anyway there is a 16th birthday party for Helen and Lara, with Helen the centre of attention and Lara wallowing on the sidelines. To get revenge she casts a spell using a ritual taken from “You do Voodoo”, a curse designed to give anal acne. Helen is heading downstairs, bleeding profusely from the nose. Raymond, ever practical, takes a sample of the blood and Helen collapses. The Doctor who comes suggests she will be alright. She apologises to Lara for not making more of an effort to be her friend and then dies.

the daughter returnsOf course the family are distraught. Lara blames herself (and her curse) and wonders whether mom would have rather she had died. Raymond discovers a virus in the blood that devours red blood cells and is sensitive to UV and then, at the door, Helen appears, still in her body bag, covered in blood she knows is not hers – she has killed her mortician and fed from him.

instincts take overHelen is a vampire and the family become murderers as they conspire to keep her alive. Helen herself seems the most squeamish about the act of devouring a sacrifice (as they call the victims). There is a marvellous scene, having captured two Mormons (after a rather blackly amusing grilling of their beliefs by Lara), of Helen losing control and feeding. It captures the newborn pain, the lingering humanity and I have to say, for an actress who had (according to IMDb) been in nothing before, Devon Bailey offers a powerhouse performance.

Lara and Raymond in a vampire's visionHaving gotten over the initial shock and entered into the nightmare of murder and rationalisation, the family then begin to fear that other vampires may come (something Lara warns them of) and there are more family skeletons to appear.

the pain of feedingLore wise we discover how vampires become what they are – but I won’t spoil that – they can go around 72 hours without feeding. The first day they are rational, the second they get the shakes (more fine acting from Devon Bailey) and then they lose reason altogether. Sunlight burns them but they are immune to all human ailments.

The acting is, in the main, very good; there are some weaker supporting performances but all things are relative and if the key performances had not been as strong as they are we might not have noticed as much. The soundtrack is excellent, with some well chosen songs but also some instrumental pieces that offer a feeling of silent cinema to the film somehow, and that feeling works well.

Eilis Cahill as LaraThe key to this is the well explored characters and the black comedy. Elements are clearly over the top and yet we accept them because of the great characterisation. There are well explored themes of faith, the malleability of belief and familial love. I mentioned earlier that the film is well structured and composed. This was a revelation of an independent movie and a salutary lesson to independent filmmakers in what to do. 7 out of 10. Now I just have to make sure I get myself the DVD.

The homepage is here and, for as long as it runs, the film festival where you can view this for free is here. Finally the IMDb page is here.

The trailer is embedded below:

4 comments:

Suzanne said...

The title says vampire diaries part 1 - do you know what part 2 will involve? I liked the film and I'm very curious what they will do next.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Suzanne...

I'm not too sure of their direction but I do know that they aim to make three films and that Oya's story continues to be told through them and that Oya would appear in them.

Hopefully if Phil Messerer sees this, he would be kind enough to furnish us with spoilers.

Philmesserer said...

Sorry, no go.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

boo hiss... no fun... but I do respect the stance. I have edited the review to embed the trailer at Phil's request.