Monday, November 18, 2013

AS:VS At Stake: Vampire Solutions – review

Director: Jim Weter

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

If you look at the AS:VS homepage (EDIT: homepage has now gone) you will see that the creators class this as a dark comedy and it is. However, to start off I have to say that I didn’t find it a laugh out loud comedy – which is not to say that it isn’t a good film, on the contrary I found it to be an excellent film, nor is it to say it isn’t a comedy, there is a vein of black humour pulsing below the surface of the film. However its strength is in its almost poignant undertones and satirical social commentary.

even the sign is economically depressed 
If I had to liken  the film to anything it would be the series Death Valley though there was an underlying zaniness to the series that would have been inappropriate in this. The series, you might recall, followed a police undead task force. This follows a civilian crew of vampire hunters in a world where vampirism is real and the police would rather a company like AS:VS puts themselves in jeopardy.

the media circus
The film begins with media about vampires, news reports, science shows, a cacophony of data. The professional shows are not what we are interested in, however, we are travelling with Evan Shandling (Jimmy Patterson), a film student whose thesis for graduation is based around the working class and the economy and he has decided to showcase the company At Stake: Vampire Solutions as an example of a small company and its working class employees.

The AS:VS team
The crew seem less than friendly at first but owner Carl Bishop (Carl Pfeiffer) explains that they had been betting on whether Evan would even show up – a news crew arranged to travel with them once and never actually appeared. Carl also wants to know whether Evan has a death wish. As the film progresses we meet the rest of the team, Kevin Embry (Jerry Kimble) the second in command, redneck Roy Pickett (Joshua Brunson), Amy Scott (Anastasia Gale) and new team member Eddie Gamble (Michael Goff). As we follow them around the low budget filming never feels wrong as it is a student film essentially and the actual filmmakers were able to use this in order that they could hide many budget born sins in the dark of the Mississippi night.

vampire staked on tree
As for the vampires… Vampirism is passed through bite or scratch and it is essentially a virus but it mutates, hence a cure or vaccine has not yet been developed. A cop who is filmed suggests that, following a vampire injury, there are three likely outcomes – loose a limb (if that is where you were bitten), die or, worse, die and turn. On the first hunt we go on we hear the vampires growling gutturally – the sound selected works really well. We discover that the team uses paint ball guns with glass marbles as it is cheaper than firearms (this is an aspect of the social commentary, of course) and the vampires have soft dying tissues that the marbles rip through. When we see a vampire he ends up impaled on a tree branch and then killed with a headshot.

camp attack
Wait a second, you might say, headshot – that sounds very zombie. Well there is a zombie element to this I would say. Whilst the world debates whether vampires are just instinct or whether there is an intelligence and memory, Carl has noticed four basic vampire types. One type he describes as splotchy, there is another that travels on all fours, the mindless types (I guess we could go down the zompire line) and the intelligent vampire – later we discover that the intelligent ones can use the net to select prospective victims, for instance, and it is suggested you wouldn’t know it was a vampire if stood next to you – until it attacked.

restrained and turned
We do see a girl who is bitten and restrained by Roy until she turns (and then they kill her again), she is either feeding from her restrained wrist or literally trying to chew out of her restraints. We hear about unscrupulous funeral homes who charge double for a second burial. Vampires do not have fangs but they will chew anything (a vampire will devour the whole victim) and so often have broken shards of teeth – they are likened to komodo dragons for the toxic nature of their bite at one point. Garlic does little (though AS:VS worked, previously, with a vet who was trying to develop a garlic solution) however silver works well.

night hunting
I liked the thoughts around sunlight. Carl points out that sunlight itself does nothing to a vampire, after all, if it did, they wouldn’t go out at night as moonlight is reflected sunlight. Rather, it is the heat that gets them. Carl likens them to a sponge but, rather than being hydrated with water, it is blood they need. Too long in the heat and they start to dry out – it was a fairly unique idea. So the film actually looks at vampires in a clever way but juxtaposes this with a stinging satire around economics and vocation versus employment.

vampire horde
I was really taken by this film and I always love to find a leftfield film, independent by nature, that manages to rise above the obstacles born of budget and produce a really worthwhile addition to the genre. From the very beginning the low budget was forgotten and I knew we had a winner. The acting was natural, which was what it needed. You believed these were ordinary working Joes and that carried the film well. There is a sequel – not yet released – and I am really looking forward to it. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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