Monday, May 25, 2015

Dead but Dreaming – review

Director: Jac Avila

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Dead but Dreaming is from the same team who would later bring us Olalla, with Jac Avila at the helm, rather than Amy Hesketh, but with some of the same primary players (including Avila and Hesketh).

This is a period piece, rather than primarily contemporary, and is Bolivian in origin but set in Peru. There are some earlier scenes (Greek and earlier again), which underlines the ambition of the film.

Jac Avila plays Asar
Indeed we begin in the earliest time frame (I assumed South American but that isn’t revealed) with a traveller called Asar (Jac Avila). We also see, in the primary timeframe, an Irish traveller called Moira (Amy Hesketh). As she rides she seems unaware of the cloaked figure, Nahara (Veronica Paintoux), who follows her. Moira gets to town after nightfall and searches for an innkeeper and Nahara isn’t far behind – we see she has fangs. A second vampire, Aphrodisia (Mila Joya, also Olalla), feeds on a passing stranger leaving him for dead.

Veronica Paintoux as Nahara
If we look at the stories within the three time frames then, in the earliest time frame, Asar has been adopted (as a God, it appears) and sacrifices are made to him. A girl is to be sacrificed when Nahara appears through a stone portal and takes her place. The killing blow does not kill her and she feeds on Asar, turning him into a vampire before leaving him. The second time frame, in Greece, shows us Aphrodisia’s turning story, at Asar’s hand.

Amy Hesketh as Moira
The last time frame has Moira working with the Peruvian rebels, trying to defy Spain. A priest is concerned about the intrusion into the town of a Lamiae but his niece (who may be a novice nun but who hasn’t taken her vows) does not believe in such supernatural creatures. He offers several names for the Lamiae, most familiar being empousa and Lilith. His niece is more interested in helping Moira and the rebels than searching for what she assumes to be a fantastical creature.

Aphrodisia feeds
The actual vampire who is killing people is Aphrodisia. Asar is also in the town, hunting down Nahara – to gain powers from her. Nahara has chosen Moira to be a vampire but Moira gets accused of the murders (and being a traitor) and is sentenced to flogging and execution. The film draws parallels between Aphrodisia and Moira, intercutting between the two either to see their execution and subsequent turning or to witness their degradation (scenes of Aphrodisia being punished by Asar whilst Moira is being gang raped by soldiers are intercut).

share and share alike
The vampire lore is sparse. There has to be an exchange of blood for turning, Nahara cannot die, they have mind control powers and they can walk in daylight. Asar can cause Aphrodisia to go into a “sleep” where she is dead but dreaming. They can raise victims as, I am guessing, revenants, move with superhuman speed and heal with their blood to hide fang marks. That was about all we got.

Asar searches for Nahara
If I had a criticism it is around the ambition the film shows. The Greek sections perhaps felt less convincing (and could have been curtailed a tad) and perhaps (as director/writer) Jac Avila bit off a little more than could be comfortably chewed. That is not to say it wasn’t worthwhile – it was – but the story felt sparse, despite characterisation and detail, and it felt more like a prologue to a larger narrative at times.

This was also reflected in a tendency for scenes to be dragged out. The flogging of Moira, for instance, and the scene depicting her rape were perhaps longer than they needed to be. That said I could also see what Avila was doing with these scenes. I have seen a comment suggesting that this is the first of three vampire movies that Jac Avila intends making and, assuming they are related, that might reveal why the film felt as it did; that it was, indeed, an opening gambit of a larger story. The locations, incidentally, were sumptuous.

6 out of 10.

The film can be purchased via Amazon (link below) but can also be found at Vermeer Works and rented to stream from Vimeo

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