SXSW 2013: ‘Kiss of the Damned’ Review

4.5/10

Film Pulse Score

Release Date: May 3, 2013
Playing on VOD March 28th
Director: Xan Cassavetes
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 4.5/10

The first feature film from Xan Cassavetes is a steamy vampire B flick who gives a silent nod to cult genre influences, but leaves a few key factors of vampire stories in the dark.  Of course, this is also the fun of a B film, the eye rolls and heavy audience sighs are all large parts of what makes a small film enjoyable, and Kiss of the Damed is certainly no exception to the rule in this regard.

We begin in a video rental store, where the clients are shopping for VHS tapes to take home for the evening, rather than DVD’s.  One look at the wardrobe of Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) and we can easily determine that we are smack dab in the middle of the 90’s.  Ok, ok, so a decade famed for its massive obsession with a new found minimalism (aka that heroin look) and a large degree of equal parts self loathing and self righteous indignation, what’s to complain about?  Perfectly vampy, this vibe is further shaped by the presence of a house maid with a blood disorder,  one who will take care of things during the day while the undead sleep.  She’s the perfect maid, uninvested, not threatened, totally quiet, and enjoys her job security.

The story lifts off from vampire looking for VHS in movie rental store, where Djuna lays eyes on the man of her incredibly long, (and if she’s lucky) permanent life.  She dramatically tries to leave, but it immediately begins to rain.  He follows her out of the store to flirt, with not a clue as to what he’s getting into. They drive back to her place, a classically stark white house at the end of a long wooded road.  Inside he makes his move, but feeling her vampy urges coming on, she cries and kicks him out of the house.  They make out for awhile in the open crack of the chain locked door, she bites his tongue, and he checks out.  Soon, even though he’s a Hollywood writer looking for some solitude to finish a new script, he can’t help but to go back and have her reveal herself to him.  Ah the power of love.

The film picks up once he switches sides, becomes a vampire, and they start having a real relationship. They hunt animals in the woods. He’s taken into the high society of vampires, who never drink human blood, dream about being the leaders of a new generation, some of whom have dark secrets hiding in their pasts.  Weaknesses are revealed when Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, sent by Xena (Anna Mouglalis), the head of their little vampire society.  Xena’s a recovered human blood addict, and she knows that Mimi’s got the same demon.  Mimi is eventually going to go to rehab in Phoenix, AZ (but really?  isn’t sunny Phoenix the last place a vampire rehab would be?).  While that’s all getting set up, she’s to stay at the house with her sister, despite their obviously troubled history.

The rest is fairly predictable, as Mimi sucks human blood promiscuously, Djuna and Paolo look away, the love nest disturbed by her presence.  They are used to hunting animals in the woods at night, not sucking the necks of living people.  Mimi seduces and destroys.  She’s young, sexy, and reckless.  These lifestyles are certainly going to collide.  When they do we aren’t sure exactly what’s happening to whom, and who is sucking whose what.  Love and blood triangles are formed, and it seems, they all come to haunt Mimi in the end.  One of the more problematic aspects of the film is the rendering of sexy.  While there is one scene that is genuinely striking, other story development ideas lay in the wake.  It makes no sense that Paolo would fall in love this fast, literally over the course of 3 short scenes, and then decide to become a vampire.  The initial meeting is quite causal, and as far as he knows, this woman Djuna is acting bizarrely and has a terrible skin condition.  The formula of love here is difficult to believe at best, but it passes quickly into the ‘meat’ of the film, so to speak.

A plus in the film, though it could use some mixing finesse, is the sound track and sound design of the film.  Strong and textural elements really drive the primal aspects of the experience home.  This is great because shots are sometimes confusing, and we need the extra ambiance to help us switch between the various modes of operation.  When the structure finally settles, the film feels like its reaching for Cruel Intentions aesthetics much more than any Argento sensibility, though it is laced with a few starkly artful shots, which are surprising when they arrive (Mouglalis’ close up after a stage performance comes to mind).  I suppose that more fun is to be had in a film about a badass chick vampire who manipulates the society of her brethren simply because she doesn’t want to go to rehab.  A stronger balance of this artful eye and the structured pacing might have really made the difference between making a film that refers to cult hits, or making a cult hit yourself.