Directed by: Xan Cassavetes
Premise: A female vampire (Joséphine de La Baume) falls in love with a writer (Milo Ventimiglia) and converts him to the undead. When her vampire sister (Roxane Mesquida) turns up, her wild ways threaten their relationship and the whole vampire community.
What Works: Vampire movies have been very popular lately but as these stories have entered the mainstream they have been sterilized and made safe for mass consumption, most visibly in the Twilight films. What is strange about this sanitization is that it has defanged the vampire. Stories about vampirism are often about issues like sexuality and violence but contemporary stories like Twilight have soft pedaled these issues or purged them altogether. For that reason, Kiss of the Damned is a refreshing entry in the vampire genre. It restores carnality and savagery to the vampire film and does so without apology. The film is truly erotic, something not seen in mainstream American movies in a while, and that quality extends to the scenes of vampire violence which stylistically emphasize the erotic qualities of bloodletting while not getting unnecessarily gory. Kiss of the Damned is also thoughtful, at least in parts, about the implications of vampirism and the moviemakers present an effort to move the genre forward. Vampire films have often been about the struggle with the animalistic side of human nature and the filmmakers address that aspect. At a vampire dinner party, the guests contemplate what it means to be undead but more importantly what it means to be a civilized creature whose continued existence is dependent on being a predator. These themes are fascinating and work quite well within the conflict between the sisters: one has entered a monogamous relationship and restricted her bloodlust while the other sister is promiscuous and feeds recklessly the living. The tension between these women dramatizes the conflict of the vampire story in a new way and it adds a more nuanced dimension to it. Kiss of the Damned is also very impressive in its overall look. The style of the movie is an effective mix of Hammer vampire pictures like The Vampire Lovers with more recent urban vampire stories like Let the Right One In and We Are the Night. The look works for the movie as it recalls the Victorian roots of contemporary vampire myths while also utilizing the greater complexity of more recent vampire stories.
What Doesn’t: Kiss of the Damned is successful as an exercise in style and theme but much less so in storytelling. While the filmmakers return sexuality and violence to the vampire story, the narrative is not nearly as interesting. The story is thin and the characters are very one-note. Despite setting up themes that are interesting the filmmakers largely squander those ideas because the ending of the film does not bring the conflict between the sisters to a satisfactory conclusion. The acting in Kiss of the Damned is uneven, especially by Roxane Mesquida and Joséphine de La Baume. Both actresses are French and so their awkward line delivery may be a result of a language barrier but nevertheless their dramatic scenes are frequently off-key.
Bottom Line: Kiss of the Damned is stylistically interesting and its manipulation of the themes of vampire stories will make it of interest to fans of the genre. This is a movie ripe for a cult following, meaning that it could inspire a small but devoted fan base. But as with other cult films, mainstream audiences may find its flaws overwhelming.
Episode: #438 (May 12, 2013)