Friday, October 15, 2021

Vamp or Not? No One Gets Out Alive

I was put onto this 2021, Santiago Menghini directed film by Simon who suggested it was ripe for a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Based on an Adam Nevill novel, the story is transplanted from the West Midlands of England to continental USA and looks at illegal immigration within its running time.

The first scenes are archival footage from Mexico in 1963 and the archaeological expedition led by Professor Wells, we see varying scenes and an ornate stone box being lifted out of an underground chamber. Before the film moves to primary character Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) it sees another young woman (Joana Borja) sat in a house phoning home – she made a mistake and has been having bad dreams. Strange things happen, the TV picture seems to warp, footprints appear on the floor, the electric fails and in another room the box comes into view. Off screen we hear her scream, we see pinned butterflies and moths on display and one comes back to life. The lights come back on…

Kinsi and Ambar

Ambar arrives in the USA in the back of a truck, smuggled in by human traffickers. She, we learn later, spent time and money looking after her very ill mother and now, with the little she has left, she has travelled to the US to make a new life. The film quickly establishes her getting a job in a sweatshop and developing a friendship with Kinsi (Moronke Akinola). She has to get a new home when the hotel she is using asks for ID and finds her way to a house run by Red (Marc Menchaca, The Outsider). He has just inherited the house (it is the one from the prologue) and only women are being given rooms – though there is only one other resident currently. Because of her status (from south, as it is put, and paid cash) he asks for a month’s rent in advance.

Cristina Rodlo as Ambar

Ambar is after a fake ID and Kinsi knows a guy. Unfortunately, the Texas ID she wants has suddenly jumped to $3000 – though other State IDs could be got for $1000. We eventually discover that the reason she wants a Texas ID is because she had contacted a distant family member, Beto (David Barrera), who had said he couldn’t help with a job interview because she wasn’t a US citizen and so she lied and said that she had been born in Texas. Ambar is suffering from vivid bad dreams (often involving her dying mother and featuring the box) and thinks she sees/hears people in the house. She sees a man, Becker (David Figlioli, Angel) and confronts Red about his presence but Red explains Becker is his brother and lives in the private rooms with him.

Marc Menchaca as Red

Eventually Ambar wins the award for the most naïve character when Kinsi offers to loan her the difference for the ID, hands over all her cash and Kinsi absconds, quitting her job. Ambar gets fired and has no money and the house is oppressive… So, what we know – that is pertinent to the ‘Vamp or Not?’ – is that Red and Becker are Wells’ children. They came home when Becker’s treatments had become too expensive (its not clear what the treatments were for). The box has cured Becker and he is as obsessed with it as his father was – Red is complicit out of love but there is also an apparent tension with Becker, who has told him he only needs ‘a few more hits’ the language being deliberately that of addiction, and Red trying to help Ambar despite that being against his brother’s design. The ghosts we see in the house are the victims of the box – much like the ghosts in Oculus are victims of the mirror.

emerging from the box

The box would seem to be a conduit – with a front face removed we see two views inside it, one where it stretches off forever and allows a creature to appear passing through the box to our place, and one where it is a normal box with the skeleton of an infant in it (interestingly, when we see this there is a butterfly at the rib cage, remembering that some vampire myth has the butterfly as the vampire’s soul). The box (or the creature probably more accurately) has been invading dreams and when its victim is left (on a stone altar) it comes out and the victim sees the loved one they have often been dreaming of – there is a moment of consent needed, consent to the loved one (and staying with them) consents to the attack. The creature itself looks absolutely fabulous and I wish we saw more of it.

the creature

The vampiric aspect comes in with the creature seemingly taking the head of the victim (there is a set of teeth under the fleshy hood it lifts the victim into) and through this, apparently, they steal their energy and soul, if the ghosts are anything to go by. It can then use that energy to renew life (the butterfly at the head of the film) or heal its human ‘priest’ – we see a snapped leg move back to shape and heal. I say priest as there seems to be a ritual aspect to this, the victims in robes with a green dust coating their flesh and their face painted with streaks of blood. There is a more direct association of butterflies, with them gathering near the box, and one wonders whether the filmmakers wanted to suggest a definitive connection to the soul? I think the vampire/butterfly connection is coincidental to this motif but this entity appears to be vampiric.

The imdb page is here.

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