Monday, November 5, 2012
The Cinema File #14: "True Bloodthirst, aka Vampyre Nation" Review
You know what, fuck it, I still like vampires.
It seems like every time the discussion of horror movies or movie monsters comes around to vampires, it quickly descends into a debate about how much they now suck compared to other classic monsters or just in general, mostly in the context of their recent romantic forays in the Twilight movies, and shows like True Blood and (I assume because I've never actually seen it) The Vampire Diaries. Admittedly, while True Blood has its moments, the two out of three of those properties I've seen have been pretty disappointing for exactly the reasons people tend to talk about, which is why, for all its many flaws, today's film, the SyFy Channel Original Movie True Bloodthirst (originally titled Vampyre Nation) is one that a part of me wants to really say I enjoyed. I'm not quite sure yet if that's the part of me that also holds the capacity for logic and reason, but we'll figure that out along the way.
I decided to review this movie basically out of a concern for monster movie fairness, having just reviewed a recent straight to DVD werewolf movie. Now all I have to do is find modern straight to DVD takes on Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and I can finally finish masturbating...I mean finish my collection of monster reviews. Yeah, that's it. Everything I can find on this movie in terms of other reviews describe it as a schlocky twist on the film Daybreakers, where vampires ruled the world, but it seems most of that came before the change in title to what actually is a better source for comparison, an action thriller version of True Blood, without all the romance and faeries and shit. The Daybreakers parallel is also sort of ironic considering that when I saw that movie, I remembered thinking that it was way more stylish and good looking than it's story deserved, and really would have worked better as a SyFy Channel Original Movie.
That's the thing, this is a future world with vampires in it, but they don't rule shit. Vampires are out of the closet thanks to the invention of synthetic blood (ala True Blood) and "living among humans" only in the strictest sense of living on the same planet. They are second class citizens, rounded up and kept in vampire ghettos quarantined from the rest of the population and still mistrusted by most of society. It's an interesting twist that I liked and set the movie up to be more than I was expecting. The main plot kicks in right away as we find a new breed of vampire, actually an old one, the result of tainted blood regressing vampires into atavistic giant bat creatures, hunting both vampires and humans alike. A detective on loan to the U.N. director of vampire relations goes in to investigate, bringing along a group of former vampire hunters for protection.
This was another concept I liked, the idea that once monsters become mainstream, the monster hunters are basically just murderers. The two hunter siblings, implied to be descendents of Jonathan Harker from Dracula, start out in prison, presumably for their many crimes against the vampire community. I could have done with a more ragtag team of old school slayers here, as beyond the brother and sister pair, the hunters are pretty forgettable. They try to shoehorn in a girlfriend who hunts with them, but she's kinda boring and it never really comes to anything. Other than that, the characters that eventually form our core group are pretty good overall. The detective's backstory concerning his missing wife is somewhat compelling under the circumstances, and the vampire nightclub owner they recruit for help grows beyond a poor man's Alexander Skarsgard into a well rounded anti-hero. I could have used more between the two Harkers, but they weren't bad, just somewhat under utilized.
Speaking of under utilized, I thought there could have been a lot more done with the depiction of vampire society in the ghetto. Outside of a few nightclub scenes and quick little moments, once the action starts with the bat monsters, any exploration of what it means to be a vampire in this world takes a backseat, which was a little disappointing, but not so much that it ruined the movie. That being said, the one thing I really liked about the vampires in this movie was how they were depicted physically. The make-up job might come off as hokey to those weened on the modern sexy vampire, but to me, it really worked. Vampires aren't just people with fangs and bloodlust, they're reanimated corpses. They might not necessarily be completely evil depending on the fictional world you're in, but they are what they are, walking dead things, and if you're going to make them sympathetic, you do what this movie does, show them as dead, and then work to make them seem like real people in spite of it. You don't do the work for the audience by making the undead monster look cool and relatable (and sparkly).
The main monsters of the film, the proto-vampire bat things, are probably the primary reason for the Daybreakers comparison I mentioned above, and admittedly they do leave something to be desired. Their leader is the "son" of the vampire nation's king or elder or something, and the "brother" of the vampire night club owner, and they seem to keep hinting at there being more to their story than initially presented, but nothing ever comes of it beyond a fairly predictable twist involving the nature of the plague. It's not as predictable as the last movie I reviewed, but then few movies can be that predictable. Also I would have liked to actually see a transformation, but I get that budget constraints most likely precluded it. What start out as somewhat interesting bad guys eventually just devolve (figuratively speaking) into an artifical obstacle as our heroes take on the ones revealed to be the real bad guys behind it all, which won't surprise anyone, but also isn't altogether terrible in its execution.
The typical straight to DVD warnings concerning effects and acting all apply here. If the trappings of a movie beyond story and character are so important to you that the cheaper production value of a movie can ruin it for you, don't bother with this one. If you can ignore all that and just take the bad CGI and decent to bad acting for what it is, either embracing it or ignoring it as I do, you could be in for a moderately fun experience. It comes together in the end better than some big budget theatrical movies I've seen, but at the same time, it's by no means a masterpiece even in terms of the stuff they don't need a lot of money for. Some of the dialogue is stilted and it often eschews character development for action. Still, overall if it sounds like something you can take, I'd say give it a go. There's enough good in it that, strangely, I could really see this as a backdoor pilot for a SyFy Channel Original Series if they ever decided to dare HBO to sue them. It's nothing special, but what the fuck, it's got vampires in it that aren't pussies. I think at this point, that's good for a gold star in my book.
Incidentally, two random vampire related observations. Has no one used "Bloodlust" as the name for a romantic vampire something or other yet? And if not, why not? And two, is it fucked up that it's taken me like four years to figure out that Bella, the main character of Twilight, is named after Bela Lugosi? Did the shittyness of those movies distract me from that pointless bit of obvious trivia?
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