Friday, May 22, 2020

Vamp or Not? Nothing Left to Fear

I enjoy scholar and academic author Simon Bacon’s exploration of the genre but sometimes his view of whether something is a vampire (or vampiric) is a stretch, even for me. In the case of the 2013 Anthony Leonardi III directed Nothing Left to Fear there was certainly enough within it for me to decide it warranted looking at as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

The film is set in rural America – the sort of town where everyone knows everyone else and, in this case, know each other’s sins and secrets. Being the outsiders coming in to this might be a source of anxiety, even when there is common ground.

James Tupper as Dan
The film, however, starts with a journey into the place. Pastor Dan (James Tupper) and his wife Wendy (Anne Heche) are moving from the city to the town of Stull for him to take the position of the new pastor. Their kids are in the car; being Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes), Mary (Jennifer Stone) and Christopher (Carter Cabassa). Unusually the family is painted as caring, with no major dysfunction and supportive of the move. The only fly in the ointment is that the family are convinced that Dan is lost (there is a noticeable lack of GPS and mobile phones through the film).

Rebekah Brandes as rebecca
They pull in at a farm to ask for directions. In the distance is a young man, Noah (Ethan Peck), with blood on his hands but the film returns to him in a moment. Dan and Christopher walk to the shack (more than farmhouse) and knock but get no response. They are approached by the surly Mason (Wayne Pére) whose attitude brightens considerably when he knows who Dan is. Retiring pastor, Kingsman (Clancy Brown, Cast a Deadly Spell), had asked Mason to keep an eye out and the moving truck passed two hours earlier. Mason offers to lead them to the town but Rebecca is watching Noah and is disturbed when he slits the throat of a sheep, on the back of a flatbed, and drains the blood into a bucket.

dream 1
They get to the house and see that Kingsman and many of the townsfolk are moving them in. The kids pick bedrooms (with only a mouse in Mary’s room to spoil what is still painted as idyllic). On that first night Rebecca has a disturbing dream of a woman overwhelmed with a darkness around her eyes and mouth (she has a further dream about darkness and sheep alive but rotting. These don’t overly impact the film, bar her meeting the woman in real life, and serve more as horror tropes than narrative points - indeed the first dream is counter to the narrative as the woman could not have been possessed previously as she is alive). The family go to church the next day and Rebecca notices Noah leaving as the sermons start.

the tooth
She speaks to him outside (clearly attracted to him and not put off by the makeshift sheep slaughtering). He turns up at the house later, just as Mary has taken a slice of ‘welcome’ cake and gagged, her mouth bleeding as she finds that a strangely carved sharp tooth was in the cake. Noah says the baker is in her 90s and implies senility, throws the cake away and pockets the tooth. He and Rebecca go for a walk, which ends when Mason orders him home – to Pastor Kingsman.

being possessed
The pastor is angry and tells him not to get close and do his job – he hands over the tooth and tells him it was Mary who was chosen. So what’s going on? The town is a doorway to evil (that is the primary description). Each year a family is lured there and essentially sacrificed to placate the evil. One is chosen via the tooth (Mary in this case) and a ritual calls forth the evil which then possesses them. The summoning ritual is a blood ritual conducted by Kingsman and judging by his scars he has conducted many over the years. Once possessed she is returned to her family.

The town hides behind their doors, marked with (St Andrew’s) crosses painted with the sheep’s blood (so a take on Passover) and when the darkness fully takes the victim (s)he attacks the family, able to reach outwards with tendrils of darkness and will physically grab the victim to take them also. This is where we have our suspected vampiric aspect. When Wendy is found, having been attacked by Mary, she is a desiccated corpse that starts to crumble to dust – as though she has had all life and vitality drained. The issue is that it is a reading of the text, the film doesn’t tell us that this is the case. Indeed the film doesn’t tell us much.

The remaining member of the family has to stop the darkness/evil by bleeding into the same pit that Kingsman bled into to summon it. What is not only unanswered but unaddressed is why? Why does the darkness need to be annually released and satiated in this way? What would happen if the closing ritual wasn’t conducted? For the second question the clue might be in the fact that Mary’s body is already decaying – so human flesh apparently cannot contain it for long. This suggests, therefore, that there is no maintaining of the stolen flesh through a feeding mechanism. Would it then take over another or return to where it came? We don’t know.

Kingsman believes he is doing righteous work but he has tricked a holy man and his family into coming to the town. Why? Could there be other more dubious candidates that they could lure or do the victims have to be pious? Does it have to be a family? He believes it is God’s will, but also believes that they have been lied to about stories of the angels of an interventionist God and there aren’t any, only them. The film doesn’t elaborate though. Surely the phenomena is pre-Christian in origin? What occurred prior to the settlement? What is the deal with the carvings on the tooth (and what creature did it come from)? Answers to all this would help the ‘Vamp or Not?’ but also improve the film considerably.

another victim
There is an interesting environmental aspect where Noah takes Rebecca up a tower to show her the view, and the concept that there is a world beyond Stull but what we see is a sea of trees, the forest going on and on; Stull is in some respects Transylvania, the land beyond the forests. Simon Bacon likens this film, in a way, to Jug Face, which again was environmental, but the unseen entity (perhaps an avatar of the land) in that film resided in the pit. In this case the pit seems to be more a gateway, but the mythology was better constructed in the other film. Given that the blood lore is all over the place (in that it summons, wards and banishes), then I think that in this it all comes down to whether the entity is draining life or not. If you read it as draining life then it is a form of energy vampirism including vampiric possession. If it isn’t doing that, rather it is just killing, then it is not vamp. Trouble is, it’s down to viewer interpretation only.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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