Philadelphia CineFest Review: VAMPIRE

A young man and a young woman meet in a secluded spot. They get into the man’s car and it soon becomes apparent that although this is the first time they have met face to face, they know each other from online. Further dialogue reveals that they are on their way to an isolated location where they will carry out a suicide pact together. However, once they reach their destination and he begins to help the woman end her life, we discover that the man, Simon (Kevin Zegers), has no intention of taking his own life. Instead, he drains the girl of her blood and leaves her body in an old, abandoned freezer chest.

A high school biology teacher by day, Simon spends his evenings caring for his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother (Amanda Plummer) and posting on a suicide-themed website, looking for his next victim. His approach is simple. He finds a young woman who is intent on killing herself, offers to create a suicide pack with her and then convinces her that death by having her blood drained is a peaceful way to go. His routine is disrupted when he meets Abbot (Kyle Cameron), a young, somewhat naive police officer who seems insistent on befriending Simon, even going so far as to introduce his sister Eve (Rachel Leigh Cook) to him as a potential girlfriend. At a party, Simon meets a rival of sorts by the name of Renfield (Trevor Morgan), who discovers Simon’s own murderous avocation. The influence of Eve and Renfield in his life will ultimately send Simon down an unexpected, and at times ironic, path. But will it finally bring him to happiness?

Vampire, the first English language film from noted Japanese director Iwai Shunji (All About Lily Chou Chou), is a bit maddening. Its almost banal presentation of its serial killer protagonist clearly removes it from typical horror movie fare. Nor is the film all that interested in the police hunt for the serial killer that they have dubbed “The Vampire,” so it is not much of a procedural or thriller. Instead, Iwai has created a haunting character study of a lonely man. The character of Simon is a complex one and the collaboration between Iwai as writer and director and Zegers as actor richly brings him to life.

We are never told what has driven Simon to do what he does. He does seem to have a code about whom he kills, choosing only victims who are longing for death anyway. (He is repulsed when he witnesses Renfield murder a randomly chosen woman.) Is Simon helping them end it all because he has fried to commit suicide but found that he lacked the will to go through with the act? But if so, why drain their blood? Does he really think that it is a peaceful way to die? Is he trying to form some connection with them when he tries to drink their blood even though he regurgitates it a short while later? Or is the blood symbolic of the life that he feels has been drained from him by caring for his ill mother? Simon poses many questions and while we never get definite answers to many of them that is of no detriment to the film. The enigma of Simon is what keeps us engaged.

But for all of its brilliant touches, when the film does hit a wrong note, it is glaringly obvious. For the life of me I can’t figure out why two shots during a scene where Simon has gone fishing almost against his will with his new acquired police officer friend and his sister are at a canted, virtually 90-degree angle. It’s as if the camera was knocked over and they just decided to use what they got. Eve’s insistence into worming her way into Simon’s life is also odd, especially given how reticent he is towards being around her and her brother. Also, the revelation of a hitherto unsuspected hidden room in Simon’s apartment doesn’t ring true as both Abbot and Eve should have been able to surmise its existence just from noting how small of a space they see in his apartment versus the outside size of his building. Most annoying is the borderline cartoonish level that the goths at the party where Simon meets Renfield are portrayed. It is a bit of misplaced humor that disrupts the mood that Iwai has created and leaves it hard to not want to dismiss the following scenes with Renfield when they are important to the overall arc of Simon’s character.

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About Rich Drees 6999 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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