Sunday, November 04, 2018

With a Kiss I Die – review

Director: Ronnie Khalil

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

Tying Shakespeare (and his works) into the vampire genre isn’t unheard of and director Ronnie Khalil looks to do just that with this vehicle set in Greece (Santori to be precise).

What we end up with is a queered take on Romeo and Juliet (more a sequel than anything else) and this should not surprise us as the vampire is a strong vehicle for queering a story. We end up with an interesting idea, with some nice lighting/brightness work but perhaps not delivered with as much aplomb as it might have been.

Ella Kweku as Juliet
Intertitles tell us about plague ravaging Europe in 1303 and a coven of Greek vampires taking refuge in Verona and finding the bodies of a pair of young lovers in the crypts. An observation here would be that using the Greek vrykolakas would have been nice – though there is one interesting piece of unusual lore mentioned, if not capitalised on. The bodies of the young lovers were, of course, Romeo and Juliet (Ella Kweku). Juliet was injured but not yet dead, a vampire known as Father (George Kavgalakis) turned her.

George Kopsidas as Amaltheo
800 years later and Juliet’s voice over tells us that she has been in love twice, the second time occurring three days before and leading, like the first time, to tragedy. Juliet spends each sunset reading Shakespeare’s play and taking the same poison that Romeo took (prepared by her servant Amaltheo (George Kopsidas)). She is unaware of what happened to Romeo’s body and has not fully transitioned to vampire – a state of being that is never fulfilling explained in the narrative, though the viewer can extrapolate that transitioning relies on killing prey rather than simply drinking from them. She is used to the poison and it causes seizures – later we’ll discover that poison can kill a vampire, again this is somewhat unsatisfactory in a narrative sense.

Paige Emerson as Farryn
Farryn (Paige Emerson) is holidaying in Greece, though her father believes she is in San Francisco. We get a memory of her mother (Devin Mills) dying in hospital of cancer. In a café she spots Juliet alone. A Lothario tries it on with the aloof and dismissive Juliet (who crushes his privates during the exchange). The girls make eye contact and the photography’s brightness increases telegraphing their immediate emotional connection. Juliet vanishes off. She is followed, so she grabs the young boy trailing her, who has a message from Father – literally carved into him – and carries Romeo’s ring. The suggestion is that Father has his body and the price for her to have it, on offer for three days, is her fully turning.

vomit blood
Farryn comes across a drunk Juliet who is stood on the edge of a cliff. Despite Juliet being positively rude, Farryn helps her home. Juliet runs to the toilet and vomits blood, causing Farryn to panic but Amaltheo takes over and Farryn leaves, forgetting her camera. She returns for it but Juliet has fed on Amaltheo by that point and seems much better. She convinces Farryn it was red wine she brought up but asks her to leave. However the next day their paths cross and a relationship develops. Farryn discovers the truth of Juliet’s nature when Juliet’s cousin (Ioannis Papazisis) threatens to feed on her and they bear fangs at each other.

Juliet's cousin
Rather than being overtly freaked out, Farryn quickly asks to be turned – this might seem an odd reaction but the narrative eventually gives us a reason why this would be the case. Juliet actually begins to consider it, causing a jealousy to develop with Amaltheo, and the two girls fall in love. We discover that a vampire can be destroyed via decapitation, fire and drinking dead blood – and the blood can be essentially dead even if the individual is not dead yet but is dying (of a disease, for instance). Later, as mentioned, we also discover that they can be poisoned but that made little general sense. Vampire’s lose the ability to see colour – which was the unusual lore but little capitalised on, simply used to have Farryn describe the colour of sunsets/rises. Juliet can stand the sun – but that might be a not fully turned thing. Fully turning allegedly kills emotion.

Juliet and Father
The queering worked as a concept and making Juliet’s ethnicity different to that which would be stereotypically expected was a great choice. I also loved how the brightness increased (and at certain times dulled), especially as a telegraphing of emotion. However, I felt the performances lacking. I didn’t particularly feel a chemistry between the leads – though the fact that Ella Kweku supplied Juliet with an aloofness might have caused that. I felt the delivery was a little stilted, whether this was due to the actors or a symptom of the dialogue I wasn’t certain.

shedding a tear
As for Juliet being a real person and yet a subject of Shakespeare’s writing – Juliet confesses that she told Shakespeare her story and he immortalised it – ignoring the actual history that Shakespeare took the story from Arthur Brooke's poem Romeus and Juliet (1562), which in turn came from an Italian novel (or a French reworking thereof). However such detail would have been confusing and the shorthand of Shakespeare was more efficient.

after drinking dead blood
I wanted to like this and I did, but not as much as I thought I would and that was really down to dialogue/performance as much as anything. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible but could have been better. The vampirism could have been more explicit, visually things could have been done with the colourless vision and certainly there were threads with the jealous servant and sinister family that could have been expanded upon. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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