Saturday, September 09, 2017

Derakula – review

Director: Reza Attaran

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

It was almost inevitable, one guesses, that a vampire film should come out of Iran following the success of American-Iranian film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This feature carries an anti-drugs message that might have been fairly heavy handed but for the fact that Attaran made it the central plank of the situational comedy,.

The film itself is well shot and lifts its vampirism directly from the European source – though the film itself is set domestically. This makes a nice juxtaposition of East and West but with blood drinking being another addiction it also places the evils of the world of Western origin and, whilst somewhat sidelined, it paints a picture of women being the stronger of the sexes. Its side-swipes at social media suggests that some issues are simply universal.

Reza Attaran as Javad
Javad (Reza Attaran) and his wife Mojgan (Jaleh Sameti) seem a normal couple. They banter and she is taken with a phone app that guesses your age and is thrilled when a celebrity likes a picture she’s posted to Instagram. However, before dinner is served for the family Javad decides to go out. Mojgan is concerned with the way he gets when he is out of work. He heads to a local park where several men hang out and do various drugs.

Javad and mMsoud
Life takes an unexpected turn when he takes a lift from a stranger, is chloroformed and kidnapped. The stranger is Masoud (Levon Haftvan) and he dumps Javad in a locked garage before fixing the satellite dish for his wife Susan (Vishka Asayesh) and having dinner along with their young son Farbod. As they sit and talk we notice that Susan has noticeable fangs. Javad, in the meantime, comes around. The garage seems to have quite a lot of blood filled containers but Masoud has left the man with his phone.

spilling blood on self
He tries to phone Mojgan and tell her that he has been kidnapped but she has heard his wild stories before. He hasn’t got any data left on his phone package. Eventually he freaks himself out with his own reflection and stumbles, knocking a bowl of blood over himself. Masoud comes to the garage and promises not to hurt the man, taking him into the house to give him clean clothes. Susan sees him and remonstrates with Masoud – saying that he had promised he had given up blood. She eventually goes back to her father because of the broken promise.

vampiric couple
Meanwhile Javad prepares some opium in tea for himself and Masoud. He does it to run away but Masoud tracks him down and offers him a lift home – should he want one. Instead Javad stays with Masoud and, in the morning, Masoud is amazed that he had a night without wanting to drink blood. When we get the background of the vampires we hear that they are the last of two of the Dracula family lines. Their parents escaped persecution in Europe and moved to Iran and, when his parents died in an automobile accident, he tracked Susan’s father Vlad down. Vlad agreed to their marriage on the proviso that Masoud did like them and swore of blood.

ancestral portraits
During a moment of weakness Masoud had fallen off the wagon, and was unable to quit after that – secretly imbibing blood behind Susan’s back, but Javad realises that Masoud had picked his victim from the park and become addicted not to blood but to the drugs in his victim’s system. He promises to help Masoud and they tell Mojgan that they are going on a trip to Turkey (read cold turkey). However getting Masoud (and himself) off drugs seems to be more an excuse to buy more drugs and whilst Masoud gets Susan back when she realises he hasn’t killed Javad he quickly loses her again when she discovers the drug use.

There was some interesting takes on vampirism. The vampires had taken to a diurnal lifestyle and tropes like not having reflections only came into effect when they “vamped out” and were ready to attack. Vamping out was marked with their eyes turning red and shadowing around their eyes. When we see the back history we actually get an image of Christopher Lee for a moment. I liked the fact that Masoud was a larger size and thus the film moved away from the stereotyped rake thin (or indeed, ripped) vampire. The film used feline rather than canine imagery – though there is no indication of shape shifting.

Vishka Asayesh as Susan
I also liked the fact that, whilst we saw very little of the two wives, they were, in their own way, much stronger characters than the men. The drug addicts were all men. Susan was painted as very strong – walking out on Masoud for his transgressions. Perhaps this was somewhat down to her European roots as she is quite shocked to hear that Mojgan doesn’t read and gives her a book. For her part Mojgan holds the family unit together and is the backbone whilst Javad is away with the fairies (as it were). She also easily deflects him when he notices the book and queries whether she has read it.

vamp out
The film was well acted and the cinematography was excellent. The comedy, for the most part, worked well. It was primarily situational with a satire aspect. There may have been some cultural nuances missed but there was also some universal themes (such as the impact of social media and the cult of celebrity and cat pictures). There was an undertow that drugs had become pervasive in (male) society – be it deliverymen doubling as dealers or user/dealers helping out at the local schools. My issue was probably that the end felt a little flat. It wasn’t awful, by any stretch, but after such a good building towards the ending I expected more. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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