Saturday, September 07, 2013

Vampire – review

Director: Shunji Iwai

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

In 1886 Richard von Krafft-Ebing, an Austro-German psychiatrist, published the book Psychopathia Sexualis, a study of sexual perversion and within its pages he identified several individuals who had blood fetishes, tying sexuality and blood consumption together. Cases within the book, such as the case of JH, are not generally homicidal. So, what if there was a serial killer who drained their victims blood? Then (on the exsanguinated bodies alone) the press would label them as a "vampire" and headlines such as "vampire killer on the loose" would appear. If they took that blood and drank it, if that was part of their pattern, then surely the label of clinical vampirism would fit… though I am sure that clinical vampirism that was homicidal would be very rare.

Kevin Zegers as Simon
Vampire is director Shunji Iwai’s first English language film and Lionsgate have done their best to tie it into supernatural vampirism with the red eyed, fanged bust of the DVD cover. However it is not, in any way, about a supernatural vampire. Rather it is someone who suffers from clinical vampirism. A comment on IMDb suggests this is based on a real Japanese case. I’ve found a suggestion in researching this that a man in Japan murdered three people by enticing them to enter a suicide pact with him, however I have not verified if this is true.

Keisha Castle-Hughes as Jellyfish 
When the film starts we see a girl, known online as Jellyfish (Keisha Castle-Hughes), stood by a fence. A man, Simon (Kevin Zegers), pulls up and introduces himself. They met online, on a site called Side by Cide, and they have agreed to die together. He has asked her to bring her laptop so that he can delete all the traces of their conversations. They drive off, buy coffee en route and she stops for a last meal – though he is resistant to it and refuses to come into the restaurant – forcing her to buy take out.

draining Jellyfish
Strangely she is not put off by his behaviour. He asks how she wants to die. She doesn’t want pain and is scared of guns. He suggests that they bleed to death, it is quick and painless he says. He takes her to a warehouse and starts setting equipment up. He encourages her to take a sleeping pill (she does ask why he isn’t taking one) and then lays her on a chest freezer, He puts intravenous needles into each arm and leg and drains her blood into bell jars.

drinking Jellyfish
When he leaves the warehouse he puts the equipment into the back of his car and removes one jar. He drinks from it in long gulps. How do we know this man is not a “real” vampire? His reaction to the blood is atypical, after he has driven away from the murder/euthanasia scene he has to pull over to vomit the blood back up. So, this is Simon, biology teacher, quiet and unassuming and clinical vampire. He prowls the suicide chat rooms looking for people to enter into pacts with and kill (he also changes his MO occasionally, we see him later suggest that he take a suicidal woman’s blood for research as he is looking for the “suicide gene”).

Simon's mother
We then get a series of vignettes that follow him. We see the cop (Kyle Cameron) who is investigating his apartment as a window cleaner has seen Simon’s mother (Amanda Plummer) in a truss attached to loads of helium balloons – she has Alzheimer’s and wanders. The balloons prevent her leaving the apartment and help her get on and off her commode. He takes Simon fishing (a scene that feels off kilter due to the odd camera angels used) and introduces him to his sister Laura (Rachael Leigh Cook) – who turns out to be an obsessive stalker.

Trevor Morgan as renfield
One of the more disturbing vignettes occurs when Simon, under his guise of Blood Baron, attends a ‘real’ vampire gathering. As well as the tedium of their host’s two hour long, vanity vampire film Simon finds himself gaining the dubious attentions of Renfield (Trevor Morgan), who has had custom fangs made and is clearly coming on to Simon. When he finds last messages from murdered girls on Simon’s smart phone he realises that Simon is the one that the press have dubbed the Vampire. He uses this as leverage to get Simon to go out with him, in his fake taxi, where he abducts, rapes and murders a woman (biting her jugular with his fake fangs). This isn’t his first apparently – he talks about cooking their flesh and grinding their bones – and his actions disgust Simon, who sees it only as rape. Remember, at this point, that all Simon’s victims are willing (though he has misled them as to his involvement) and their deaths are peaceful.

off-kilter camera-work
The film feels languid as you watch it, a feeling intensified by the soft piano soundtrack and Simon’s unassuming manner. It is also very long – probably half an hour too long if I am going to be honest. There is a flashback scene at the very end that seems to show Simon’s first kill but it is pointless given where we are in the film’s story. The true ending (before the flashback) steps out of the dour but real feeling that Shunji Iwai had instilled through the film and adds an un-realness that does recall the camera work of the fishing trip but seems out with the rest of the film.

Simon giving blood
The acting generally is very good but the DVD sound causes the quieter dialogue to become lost at times and as the dialogue drives the film I found myself putting the subtitles on to ensure that I didn’t miss anything. The dialogue itself can seem a little stilted but mostly worked. There is a definite nod to Dracula. Not only do we have Renfield but Simon gets Laura’s name wrong and calls her Lucy and he has a Japanese foreign exchange student in his class called Mina (Yû Aoi) who he ends up giving his blood to.

This film is going to be hated by many. Firstly it is marketed as though it is a supernatural vampire film and so will confound expectations, it is languid (as I say) and, for its worst sin, it is overly long. I thought it okay, but would have liked to have seen a judicial use of the editor’s scissors. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Matt has tried to leave a comment and it hasn't worked. This is his comment:

"I just watched this film for the first time. And as always after writing my own review I came straight here to see what you thought of it.

The German DVD (which has far more suitable cover art than the one you complained about) counts a "making of" among its special features. That "making of" is 73 minutes long, so I did not watch it (I found the film dreary enough as it is, without sitting through an overly-long "making of" featurette). But I caught a few glimpses and so might be able to clear up that imdb-user's claim about this being based on a true story (not that it matters).

If the German subtitles they slapped under the Japanese interviews in that "making of" are accurate, then the film was based on two separate ideas by Shunji Iwai. A long time ago, he came up with an idea for a story about a young boy who becomes convinced that he is a vampire - but that story remained a fragment. Five years after that, Iwai came up with an (unrelated) idea for a story about a serial killer who targets suicidal women. But while he was still working on that story, a very similar thing happened in real life. This might very well be the story you found in your research. So Iwai abandoned the script, mostly because - as I understand it - he believed that no studio/producer would pay him for a script if they could just as well base a film on the real-life story. It was only after working on New York, I Love You that he had the idea to combine these two old abandoned story ideas of his and turn them into something new - and this is how the script for Vampire was born.

So it is much more complicated than the imdb-user suggested, and Iwai did not actually draw any inspiration from this real-life event, but rather experienced it as an obstacle. And from all this information I would also infer that the real-life Japanese case never involved any blood-drinking, etc."

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks Matt, I really appreciate the info from the making of :)