Monday, July 18, 2016

Manhattan Undying – review

Director: Babak Payami

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

This US/Canadian film seemed to come out of nowhere. Not a horror film it isn’t exactly a romance either and firmly concentrates on one part of the vampire mythos – reflections.

It always seems that a focus on themes in different vehicles come at around the same time and I was reminded, as I watched this, of Therapy for a Vampire as that had a similar theme of reflection within it. However, this is a very different film.

the corridor
We see a painting of a corridor or tunnel, the distant opening capturing a sunrise that is juxtaposed against the urban decay the tunnel represents. A voice over the scene states, “You don’t have to die.” Shots of Manhattan are interspersed with scenes from a night club (with plenty of cyber goths and wannabe vampires). After the credits we see Max (Luke Grimes, True Blood) sleeping through a hammering at his door. The visitor, Drew (Milton Barnes, the Strain & Hemlock Grove), lets himself in. He is his agent and artist Max is late for an appointment at a gallery.

Luke Grimes as Max
Max has had some fame in the past but hasn’t done a showing for five years and is busy leading a drug, drink and sex filled bohemian lifestyle. However, the scene seems to be depressing him and, with a host of hangers on at his flat, he has a moment and subsequently throws everyone out. He collapses, is taken to hospital and then we see him with his Doctor (Earl Pastko, also Hemlock Grove, Forever Knight, Blood & Donuts & Goosebumps: Vampire Breath) and Max is told that he has late stage lung cancer and has weeks, maybe months to live. He is told that treatment might help but refuses.

no reflection
In the club a woman looks at one of Max’s paintings, fascinated by it. She is not named in film but in the credits she is called Vivian (Sarah Roemer). A customer notices her and (having taken plastic fangs out) asks her if she is bored with the “vampire sh*t”. We cut to them in bed, she flips over straddling above him and attacks, biting into his neck. After she has fed she looks in a mirror, the film is deliberate about the scene making sure we know that her lack of reflection is the main drive going forward.

a victim
So, cutting to the chase, she finds Max as she wants him to paint her. For his part she looks his ideal subject model and will be the centrepiece for a show that Drew has arranged for him. Max keeps his illness to himself and the film follows the attraction of the two and the courtly dance played out before he paints her (which includes him working out what she is). Meanwhile the cops believe they have a serial killer on the loose, injuring the neck and draining all the blood. Tracing the first victim to the club they then make a giant leap of faith that Max, who was there that night, knows who the killer is.

This was a weak link in the film, the hunch comes from a “twitch” whilst they spoke to him and it seemed too far for the leap of faith that was necessary. It isn’t exactly a primary plot point either. They could have reached the same plot and character place without the cops on the trail. However, it is the relationship between the characters and the character of Max that are the important parts of the film. Max is played with deft skill and subtlety by Luke Grimes and it is due to him that the film works as well as it does. Sarah Roemer has less to do but the iciness and aloofness she portrays suits the character perfectly and she makes the cracking of that for Max – and the portrait – believable. Yet ultimately we know so very little about her that she actually brought to my mind The Girl with Hungry Eyes.

blood at mouth
There isn’t much lore offered. We know she avoids sunlight and she casts no reflection and cannot be photographed/filmed. She can, however, be drawn/painted – diverging from the lore used in Therapy for a Vampire, and being absolutely plot necessary. Strangely it is stated that she has never seen herself. This either is a logical faux pas if she was turned or means that she was always a vampire (either born that way, or created as a physical embodiment of Max’s muse as he dies). She does offer him eternal life by offering her blood and we know she must drink blood and consumes the whole body’s supply from her victim.

painting in the club
I rather liked this, it kept a solid, steady pace and the photography was nicely shot and, whilst the colours were muted, I felt this suited the tone of the film. It ended consistently with its own internal logic and in a way that added weight to the theory that she was the embodiment of Max’s muse. The story was simple – essentially artist comes to terms with mortality/vampire wants to see her own face – but it didn’t need much more. I might have considered working around the police or adding in something to connect Max with the victims in such a way that the suspicions he engendered withstood scrutiny. That aside a solid 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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