Sunday, October 07, 2018

Vidar the Vampire – review

Directors: Thomas Aske Berg & Fredrik Waldeland

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

Hailing from Norway, with the original title VampyrVidar, this is a deeply black comedy that is certain to offend some – so the warning is, if you are strongly Christian I’d turn away now… or perhaps not as there are a couple of readings of this film.

It also contains a particularly misogynist streak to the humour but, again, it all depends how you read the text. Far from celebrating that, I’d say it laments it but uses dark satire to do so. That said, there is certainly a feeling that there is no taboo too far.

in the pentagram
The film begins with a broadcast news. Animals on a farm have been killed and the farmer, Vidar (Thomas Aske Berg), woke up in a pentagram with dead sheep either side of him. We note the Band-Aid on his neck. There are interviews with a local policeman and his mother. We discover that it has rocked the community, which is made up of a conservative Christian group called the Children of Creation. The video stops and Vidar, dressed in a silver, flame retardant suit, is asked by the psychologist (Kim Sønderholm) why Vidar is showing him the video.

Kim Sønderholm as the psychologist
Vidar responds that it is to prepare him, that his story is unbelievable. When asked where to start, the psychologist suggests at the beginning and Vidar asks whether he means when he was born, or born into darkness… He starts the story with a cockcrow and explains he is not a morning person, a detriment when working a farm, and we see him as a child (Ruben Jonassen). One thing the film does is flip us between young and old, which could be memory or allegory, as could some of the more esoteric scenes. The psychologist clearly is working on it all being a delusion and some of the scenes might be symbolic but whether it is symbolic for Vidar (as in he perceives the scene as a character) or us as a viewer is all left to us to decipher. It is this clever use of story and symbolism that allows for multiple readings.

mocking Vidar
The film follows young Vidar as he gets up, sees his mother is unwell in bed, rolls cigarettes and set to work on the farm. Mucking out and feeding the pigs, feeding the chickens and gathering eggs – and taking a sneaky gander at a Playboy magazine he has secreted in the henhouse. When the day’s work is done, and he’s back in the farmhouse, the doorbell rings. It is a girl, Karin (Martha Kristine Kåstad) and her friend (Astrid Braut Øksnevad) and Vidar is asked whether he will go steady with Karin. He’s confused as she had a boyfriend, Jonas (Balder Scheen Jacobsen), but she says they have split up and so he agrees. They go for a walk, climb a large storage tank and Jonas is there – it was all a prank. Vidar runs home, with their laughter ringing in his ears, and when home his mother asks him to bring her water.

Vidar and the succubus
As it is handed over we see that it is adult Vidar and nothing has changed. He still works the farm, his mother is still ill but now he is 33 years old. She reminds him to say his prayers. His prayer asks Jesus (Brigt Skrettingland) to take him from the situation – he is sick of the farm, of being alone. He wants to fight and drink and fornicate. He goes to bed with a Playboy... We see him walking towards rocks with a lantern. A succubus (Isabelle Cau), naked bar her horns, leads him into a cave or cairn. A voice says, “ask and it will be given” but, at the sight of an opening coffin, Vidar runs, finds a ladder and climbs it into a barn where he sees himself suckling the carcass of a sheep – his feral-self scuttles towards him and he bolts awake banging his head.

vampire Jesus
He goes outside for air and a cigarette and suddenly the lights come on in the barn. He crosses the farm and enters but cannot see as the light is too bright. Suddenly we see Jesus reflected in Vidar’s all too black eyes. Jesus floats towards Vidar on a swirling, probing darkness and, speaking in biblical terms such as being the alpha and the omega, asks Vidar to accept him, to eat of his body and drink of his blood. The eating is entirely orally sexual… Cutting back to the psychologist mention is made of being violated and a blood covenant.

rising from the coffin
So the film then follows Vidar who becomes more and more ill, eventually pushed in a wheelchair by a Christian faith healer (Henrik Rafaelsen) into sunlight, where he badly burns and dies in hospital and then rises at his funeral – in a fantastic combination of imagery, his initial rising from the coffin is taken from the trope developed from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens and then sees him levitate and stretch against a backdrop of the church’s cross, making him look like Christ himself. Running from the church he eventually kills a gas station attendant (Eileen Nesse Pedersen), actually shown to be Karin’s friend, and as he runs away from the scene we see Jesus takes the CCTV footage. Following his next death and resurrection we also get a cannibalistic Madonna and child tableau.

a sexual predator
Essentially Vidar’s life does not get better – though relocated to the city he continuously wears the farm overalls, which shows him tied to the drudgery of his mortal life. He is still awkward with girls, actually only really successful in any terms if it is with one of Jesus’ harem of prostitutes or as a (sexual) predator. Even then he is clumsy. He actually attends AA (as does Jesus) and states at one point that he wonders whether his maker is actually Jesus or Lucifer. Here you can have a multiple reading. If you read the film as portraying Jesus, then from a Judeo-Christian point of view this is blasphemous and probably not for you. If you read it as portraying Lucifer acting as Jesus then the film content might be strong but I’d suggest it isn’t blasphemous. If you read it as him being both, well that’s an interesting theological conundrum. From an atheist point of view the film has a very interesting take on Christian mythology and the impact of belief.

Thomas Aske Berg as Vidar
I’ll touch on the misogyny as well. Women, within this, are often looked upon as sexual objects but that is the point of view the characters carry forward. Even when he tries his hand at being a sexual predator, Vidar comes unstuck and is ultimately punished (in a scene that may be real or just within Vidar’s head). However, the film doesn’t celebrate this – as I say, it seems to lament this attitude if anything. Vidar himself is drawn sympathetically, but more so because he is so inept, he is mistreated by Jesus (kept as a vampiric dog at one point) and longs for an innocent relationship (though achieved, he actually pays for it, and it all comes back, again, to belief).

impact of sunlight
This film is deliberately shocking but plays beautifully with the vampiric tropes. Vidar burns in sunlight, needs blood (and blood and sex are drawn in parallel) and as you can see the religious aspect is deliberately played with. We get a fabulous wall crawl moment. It is a movie that will offend many but it is also a film that poses some interesting theological thoughts that can be read in several ways. The soundtrack features one particular artist throughout and made for an interesting (folk) thread through the film – juxtaposed against Jesus loving techno – and the acting is excellent throughout but it is Thomas Aske Berg who steals the show in his portrayal of a damaged young man. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

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