Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lady of the Dark: Genesis of the Serpent Vampire – review

Director: Philip Gardiner

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

Edit 13/5/2015: Images removed at request due to my sympathy for the request. Director Philip Gardner has a background in documentaries and we featured Diary of a Vampire some time ago. When it came to that I was underwhelmed by the poor research that went into the documentary but was wowed by the imagery and music.

Thus it came as less of a surprise when this low budget English movie turned out to be very artistic in basis and musically driven. The beginning of the piece starts with a narration by John Symes that talks about the serpent in the Garden of Eden and how, when Eve ate the apple, the serpent discovered mortality. Of how the serpent was worshipped but eventually, as the focus of worship was changed, it was hunted as the dragon or expelled by St Patrick. How the vampire myth grew around the serpent and of the prophecy of the next genesis of the serpent cult.

Eve (Melanie Denholme) is an ordinary woman in a loving marriage and taking two weeks off work. During this time she is bitten by a snake – she sucks the poison from her own leg, it would seem, and then eats an apple (the symbolism being obvious, perhaps too obvious). At first she seems to just become (even) more sexually charged for her husband but then things start to change. She suffers nightmares and they're filled with dark eroticism.

Interestingly most of the film is shot in a pov looking at Eve, be it her husband’s POV, or a web camera (into which she diarises). We never see her husband (or his face at least) and story aspects such as where he vanishes to – though that does seem eventually to be revealed – and what becomes of her job are left to imagination. Eventually – after a trip away and a hurried affair with a psychiatrist that might have left him dead on her hotel floor (this is insinuated, we do not see a body) – we realise there is a man held captured, hooded and possibly mutilated (we see a jar with what might be parts of his face) in her home. The logical assumption is that this is her husband (though it is never spelt out) and eventually she uses the man to feed.

The film is therefore to be judged really on four aspects. Firstly Melanie Denholme’s performance. Hers is the only voice (bar prologue and epilogue narrations) we hear and, other than some random victims, the only face we see and, overall, she offers a strong performance. Perfect? No, but compelling at all times and she manages to portray a metamorphosis of her character that moves through anguish and madness. Secondly there is the film style and, despite the noticeably low budget, Gardiner creates some visually impressive scenes. Be they physical – a snake skin sheet wrapped around Eve becomes a serpent’s tale through its drape and position – or atmospheric – though Eve is the aggressor, when she is silently followed through her home by (we assume her prisoner/husband) there is a palpable claustrophobic tension imbued in the scene.

Thirdly there is the music and I was less convinced. Some pieces worked really well but there were some set pieces using vocal songs (and one plinky plonky piece of electronica) that intruded on the scenes rather than complemented. Finally there was the gore. To a degree this had pretensions of torture porn (Vampire of Quezon City sprang to mind) but pulled back from the brink (though it remains gory) due to its artistic direction. One can’t help but think it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be at that point.

The film plays with some symbolism, quite obviously. It leads Eve down the Lilith root and (of course) Lilith and vampires are frequent bedfellows. It is interesting that Eve at one point devours her victim whole and we see her with naught but a rib left in her hand. I also want to mention the birthing of an egg – the idea that this is the rebirth of a species. One cannot help but notice, however, that Eve at one point is a force of nature that damns mankind for its blind destruction and at others is more like Lilith hating men (the gender) as evil things, refusing to be abused and needed to be on top (sexually, metaphorically and in the food chain).

The problem is that this might just be too arty for its own good. As well as the budget limiting what the director wanted to do artistically, the most likely audience may not want the arthouse treatment and wonder why the torture porn pretence was not embraced. I think many a person is going to hate it and whilst that was not the case for me I don’t think it quite made it to the artistic heights it wanted to scale. There was something in here, something interesting with regard the Eve/Lilith cross-over but it shouldn’t have relied solely on Melanie Denholme’s performance and perhaps entered into some more traditional narration and interplay – or (to gather the other audience) dropped the mythology and been more explicit around the torture. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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