Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Death of Alice Blue – review

Director: Park Bench

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

In 1764, Voltaire wrote in his Dictionaire Philosophique that: “These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer.

“We never heard a word of vampires in London, nor even at Paris. I confess that in both these cities there were stock-jobbers, brokers, and men of business, who sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight; but they were not dead, though corrupted. These true suckers lived not in cemeteries, but in very agreeable palaces.”

This distinction between the walking dead and the very real corporate vampires we still suffer from today, and their similarities, has been explored before; the surreal Hanno Cambiato Faccia being a primary example. In 2009 Park Bench journeyed this terrain again via the pimp of capitalism – the Advertising Agency – and left us with a wonderfully stylistic exploration of the vampire.

Alex Appel is Alice Blue
The film starts with a decayed, possibly abandoned, office space. Footsteps of a woman (who remains hidden beneath a coat and scarf) and then a man echo the corridors. When he offers papers and says that she has forgotten them we realise the office is not abandoned; as her handbag swings out, cracking his skull, and then she grabs him and bites. This is the Raven Advertising Agency and after the credits we meet Alice Blue (Alex Appel), the newest creative and the Monday is her second day at work. Let us talk about the look, it is marvellous. The office looks like Health and Safety should condemn it, it certainly is the opposite one would expect of a slick advertising agency and, all in all, it gives this modern tale a wonderfully Gothic look that reminds one of much older horror flicks.

Sharon and Karen
Alice faces all sorts of trials at work. Clearly her immediate manager, Stephen (Kristen Holden-Ried), has hopes for her but she is belittled by the high-flying creatives Sharon (Megan Fahlenbock) and Karen (Veronica Hurnick) who have the grace and favour of company owner Sherry (Barbara Radecki). Many of her co-workers seem zombiefied in a company that lays works off by tannoy announcement. The product of choice is nether wines (and Alice has an advertising idea about nether regions).

Alice with Peter
As well as this there is Peter Green (Park Bench) the copy-room guy who is a conspiracy investigator. He tells Alice about some of the cabals (the fourth is comprised of lizards). He runs a resistance of sorts against the company, ably assisted by Rose (Laura Thorne). Also hanging around is Detective McGregor (Conrad Coates, The Dresden Files) who is investigating ‘Friday’s tragedy’, though his presence is ominous rather than reassuring.

Carolyn Dunn is Mary Blue
Alice’s home life seems repressing, with her excruciatingly patronising mother, Mary (a marvelous performance by Carolyn Dunn). Her father, William, is absent though Mary admits, grudgingly, that he has sent Alice a present – the Monday is her 21st birthday. The following day Alice seems awfully thirsty and perhaps it has something to do with the nether wine she sampled the day before…

Sherry with Alice
Here is the ‘issue’ with the film. As things begin we know little but that is okay because neither does Alice. Indeed we are in a stronger position, knowledge wise, because we know this is a vampire movie and devices such as Alice becoming unnaturally thirsty are familiar genre tropes. However, as we discover that Mary is Sherry’s sister we start to realise that there is something deeper here. Yet the film, as Alice instinctively discovers the truth about herself, reveals little to the audience.

Gordon Currie as Julian
We meet a vampire, Julian (Gordon Currie, Forever Knight and Blood & Donuts) who is a member of another arm of vampire society but he reveals little to Alice and thus little to us. Much of what we gather we gain from observing Alice but that tells us little about her father and about the story.

The film is fully titled the Death of Alice Blue – Part 1 the Bloodsucking Vampires of Advertising, and very much we feel that we have walked in part way into a story and the film ends with much more to tell us. However, it also feels deliberate. This is not poor exposition but a deliberate withholding of salient facts and backgrounds. This is why I placed the word ‘issue’ in quotation marks. There is a frustration attached to the minimal exposition but it is done so purposefully it is really part of the film. Some will hate it for that, it has to be said. I also need to mention that the film’s homepage actually offers exposition that perhaps the movie refuses.

Lore wise we discover that vampires have psychic powers, that they can be staked and the sun will immolate them eventually. We discover that something went wrong in vampire society and that Alice was her father’s grand experiment to put things right (from the vampire’s point of view). Her powers are much more marked than many because of this. We discover that at least one of the vampires had been a Nazi and that Sherry’s interpretation of William’s work was, perhaps, not what he would have wanted.

Alice with Stephen
The acting is superb throughout – just the right side of quirky and this fits very much with the edge of satirical black humour that cuts through the film. The comedy was much more a knowing humour than a product full of belly laughs and it suited the film. I must mention Alex Appel who somehow managed to bestow a mixture of ungainly awkwardness with flowing grace upon her character. The film has a graphic novel edge to it, with a Lynch-like surrealist tone.

7.5 out of 10 seems a fair score but somehow I feel that if a little more of the veil had been lifted we would have been dealing with one of the best of the genre. Hopefully Park Bench will get the opportunity to make part 2 and within that we will see the full range of his vision and story.

The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

Wow. Color me intrigued--and not just because my own last name really is 'Blue.'

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It should be noted that the UK premier of the Death of Alice Blue is in September as part of Dead by Dawn's un-Halloween event.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir I feel you, most definitely will get much out of this one.