Monday, June 15, 2020

Vampires – season 1 – review

Directors: Vladimir de Fontenay & Marie Monge

Release date: 2020

Contains spoilers

This is a French series, 6 episodes long, which dropped onto Netflix. We are in the realm of a teen vampire (ish, I’ll explain) and there is a high school element. However this distinguishes itself from that general scope by firstly being quite dark, bloody and gritty and secondly by introducing quickly a society hidden in the shadows.

The fact that I have seen (negative) commentary that fixates on the high school aspect without realising that this is just a small slice of the show (although in focus, yes, as the primary character is seventeen years old Doina (Oulaya Amamra)) and there is so much else going on. I have also been informed by Adrien from Vampirisme that this was based on an unfinished (but published) novel and bears scant resemblance – though I went in without that knowledge or knowledge of the book, indeed.

holding her in the sun
Some years before the contemporary show, heavily wrapped vampire Martha Radescu (Suzanne Clément) breaks into the house of her friend/nemesis Csilla Nemeth (Kate Moran). She is trying to discover what has happened to her partner. She has her young son, Andrea, with her. She and Csilla fight and Martha pulls a drape and holds Csilla’s head in the sunlight, causing her to start to burn. Eventually Martha runs from the scene, no wiser and carrying Andrea with her.

Suzanne Clément as Martha
Cut forward and Andrea (Mounir Amamra) is a young man and the Radescu are pariahs, no longer part of the Community (the vampire society). We discover that she has four children. The first two, Rad (Pierre Lottin) and Irina (Juliette Cardinski) were conceived with a fellow vampire and are vampires themselves. Andrea and Doina were conceived with her missing assumed deceased partner, a human, and do not have vampire traits, though Martha makes them take a mysterious pill daily, which causes Doina to have a very itchy rash.

blood drinking
So some background on the vampirism in this. There was, centuries before, a plague which was both virulent and deadly, wiping out most in the area it hit. Some survived but this was through mutation (one suspects it was the virus that expressly caused the mutation). The mutation made them extremely sensitive to sunlight (they do literally burn and quickly go up in flames), extremely strong and dependent on blood. They do not have fangs and age very slowly – Martha is centuries old. The family is back on the Community's radar as Irina has gone to Csilla to help get her ID as hers is out of date.

Oulaya Amamra as Doina
Andrea and Doina’s human father was a geneticist and it was he who designed the pills the kid’s take that are meant to prevent mutation. Doina, at Andrea’s suggestion, stops taking the pills her mother gives her, just as he has. However, whilst Andrea remained very much human she very quickly mutates, developing a need for blood – though she is a hybrid and can still go into the sunlight. There is a ranking to blood, we discover, the vampires can drink animal blood (and mostly do), human blood is even better and somewhat narcotic, vampire blood ranks above this and has healing properties and, during the season, it is discovered that hybrid blood is superior to all with impressive healing properties. Doina, once she mutates, develops the musty odour that vampires exude and dogs react to.

Aliocha Schneider as Ladislas
Now despite what I said at the head, there is of course some high school shenanigans – as Doina has a crush on a popular boy, Nacer (Dylan Robert), who becomes more interested as she stops taking the pills (her rash quickly vanishes and her confidence grows) and this is despite her conflation of teen lust and feeding. She also finds herself attracted to Ladislas (Aliocha Schneider), Csilla’s doted on son who is also known in the Community to be a blood junky. However, this side of the show isn’t so thickly spread that the series is overwhelmed. The true strength of the show is found in the secrets upon secrets where truth cannot be taken at face value.

the vampire elder
I enjoyed this, there was an unusual take on vampirism and the atmosphere was nicely drawn, offering an urban grit and darkness. There was a decadence to the Community (when we fully face it in a party/gathering scene), which worked whilst playing with the vampire bourgeoisie trope, though the society itself appears to be exclusively matriarchal, unusually. Suzanne Clément was superb as Martha though I would have liked to see more expansion of the Rad and Irina characters – Pierre Lottin in particular drawing an interesting thug-like character that needed room to be explored. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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