Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Flemish Vampire – review


Director: R Kan Albay

Release date: 2006

Contains spoilers

It is always nice to discover the more obscure vampire movie and, to be honest, this Belgium vampire flick is pretty darn obscure – at least over here in the UK – being the first Flemish vampire movie (according to the DVD case). The film tries to do something a little unusual with the genre – kudos for that – unfortunately it also manages to fall flat on its face, as we shall see.

The film begins with a written explanation in respect of Vlad Tepes and hints that Tepes, after fighting the Turks and being betrayed by the West, led an army of vampires on a bloody rampage. Pope Pius 2nd, King Charles and Sultan Mehmet 3rd met and formed a secret alliance to destroy his evil. The three men who came along with Mehmet were djinns – they never returned home.

we see various people and little connection at firstAfter this we are in the modern day and we see various people who, to be honest, seem to have little to do with each other at first. We see a vet named Frank (Miel Heirbaut). We see a young woman who, much later we discover, is named Anne (Monica Verhofstadt) and is the daughter of Frank and Ursula (Angel Van Saet). We also notice that some of the exposure is overly bright and this is not good.

a vampire for the stageWe see Frank return to his surgery, where he receives a phone call asking him details about vampire bats – I guessed by his son for a thesis. We also see what appears (and turns out to be) preparation for a play. In the actual theatre are Tony (Brahm Shah), Veronique (Sofie Dykmans) and Jack (Youri De Bruyn). Outside the door people cannot get in as the door appears to be locked. There is an understudy (Victor Zaidi) who will take on the role of the baron in the play – we see him at home. The play is about vampires and angels.

a vampire in the pastThe film cuts back in time and we see a man, Johan (Sven De Rider). His wife seems possessed, his father fears the worst and has called for a friend – whom we see approach the house, with a companion. When the friend reaches the house they go to see the woman. He holds up a cross and she reacts, fanged, to it. The cross is also a stake and he quickly despatches her.

Veronique and Anne are loversBack to the present and we discover that Anne and Veronique are lovers. Anne has not told her father yet and Veronique is impatient as she wants them to live together. We also discover that Tony wears a Muska – a pendant to protect him from djinn. It seems that he came from a village where belief in djinn was very real and tells that stabbing a dagger into the ground, where a djinn has stood, will immobilise them. Djinn can only be killed when possessing a human.

Vlad in the pastSo, Ursula lets slip about Anne being gay and Frank goes nuts. He calls homosexuality a disease, wants Anne to have medical treatment and is trying to call her, but she is in rehearsals and hangs up on him. Ursula distracts him with her womanly wiles but pulls a dog tag with a cross on it from his neck. This seems to set a train of events off – starting with a mirror smashing, of its own volition, downstairs. We start cutting back in time and discover that the friend, who killed the vampire, was one of the djinn and that he surrendered to Vlad in order that he might die. Frank, in the present, goes to see Anne and tries to wear the dog tag again. However the cross on it burns his hand.

Anne awakens as vampireWe are really quite far into the film now but we finally get to the crux of matters. Frank is Vlad. He has started passing time by becoming younger, marrying a woman and convincing himself that he is mortal. He lives his own deception. Anne – being his daughter – has her own vampirism awaken when his does (being of his blood). She attacks Veronique – though later we discover that she can chose who will rise as an undead and who will remain dead after she attacks.

Frank's eye thingThe understudy is the last remaining djinn. The djinn goes through life, sleeping in a mortal body and only awakening when Vlad is near. The film seems to culminate in their confrontation but it is disappointing as it is two middle aged men unhappy with each other and issuing threats, with the djinn immobilised. As for Vlad/Frank – well he gets a funky eye and face thing going on, sparingly used it has to be said. Crosses burn and ward – because vampires believe they will – the mirror smashing seemed to be a nod to standard mirror lore and a stake through the heart will kill.

a djinn in the pastThe film hits several problems but lets start with the biggest – it goes nowhere slowly. The filmmakers came up with a brilliant concept of a vampiric Vlad and djinn hunting him but actually the film meanders along, sometimes surreally as we see the play and sometimes rather boringly as we get lost in the minutia of things such as a broken lock (to get to the stage area) that served little purpose. Aspects such as Frank’s homophobia, for instance, added nothing to the film except to make a plot reason for him going to the theatre. There is little pace and less atmosphere. Even in the past flashbacks the atmosphere is lacking, despite the unusual colours used in the photography.

surreal performances try to hide a lack of narrativeThe sound is another issue – dialogue sank into the background, becoming lost at times. It seemed a microphone issue, a problem from when the sound was recorded, and felt amateurish. Even though I was watching with subtitles (as I don’t speak Dutch) this annoyed me. The acting is nothing special and the entire thing becomes a good base idea, looking for a purpose and failing to find said purpose. The flashes to the past seemed unnecessary, though eventually the point was made (that there was only one remaining djinn). I mentioned the surrealism and whilst the film is surreal, in places, it felt like a self conscious effort to add weirdness to the film to try and disguise a lack of narrative.

I’ll give this 3 out of 10 – as I appreciate the idea that lay at the heart of this film, its just a shame it never really made the most of the opportunity.

The imdb page is here.

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