Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Cinema File #33: "The Thompsons" Review

This is getting ridiculous. The vampires in this movie are so not vampires, I almost feel like I need to find another movie to round out the freaking trilogy I'm doing!

I'd never heard of The Thompsons before I watched it, so I didn't know that it was actually a sequel to another movie called The Hamiltons, which obviously I still haven't seen. Both movies were independent productions written by the same people and evidently the main cast has all returned, and its possible that certain problems I have with the story are the result of my not seeing the previous installment, so bear with me on this one. Still, the movie is fairly self contained to the point where I would not have known of the previous film had I not done any research after watching it.

The Thompsons follows the titular vampire family, changing their names from the Hamiltons after the death of their parents and the events of the previous film to hide out from the cops. They're wanted for murder following a daylight robbery gone wrong that left their youngest sibling slowly dying from a gunshot wound to the chest. When it comes to what a vampire is supposed to be, there are at least three things wrong with that set up, and herein lies my first problem with this movie. Again, maybe it was explained better in the first one, though given my position on this subject, I doubt they could have done so in a way that would have satisfied me at least, but yet again, we have a movie that tells me it has vampires in it, and then gives me something completely different. 

These vampires are born. They had parents. They aren't undead, they aren't immortal. The kid vampire is literally a kid who is also a vampire, not a kid who was turned into a vampire and will now be a kid forever. Throughout the whole first half of the movie when they talked about themselves as a family, I assumed they meant a clan turned by the same vampire or vampires, but no, there's no turning involved. Some people are just born like this. And of course, they can walk around in sunlight. I hate that this is becoming so common place now. The vampires in this movie have fangs and need to drink blood, but that's it. That's the only similarity to real vampires. They might as well have been just some kind of mutants or original monster, and if they had been, I probably would have been able to enjoy the film more, because I wouldn't have been so pissed off at the fact that they were calling these fraudulent things vampires!

I'm reminded of a line in the surprisingly enjoyable Hotel Transylvania, when Samberg's character asks Dracula if a stake to the heart would kill him, and his response is, "Well who wouldn't that kill?" At one point in this movie, one of the bad guy "vampires" is killed by being stabbed in the heart, but because the lore has been so bastardized in the movie up to that point, I don't know if that's the only way to kill him, or if that was just the way he happened to be killed. They seem to die just like any human. I bring this up because this movie takes the impulse to do a new twist on vampires one step too far, to the point where many of trappings of vampire movies are still used, but fail to hit their mark as a result. A major point of the plot involves a character buried alive in a coffin, but because he's not immortal, he's not going to gradually starve into torpor until resurrected by blood as a traditional vampire would, he'll just starve and die in a few days like a human.

The coffin is actually emblematic of my second big problem with this movie, which is the completely unnecessary non-linear nature of the narrative. I don't have a problem with events taking place out of order if it serves the plot, but if it doesn't, and is only done in a failed attempt to be stylish and Pulp Fiction-y, then it just comes across as pretentious. The movie keeps bouncing around in time as the main character narrates how he ended up in the box, but by the time we get to that, the gimmick has worn thin and I don't even care, if I ever did. And the reveal of just where that coffin is is just bullshit. I'll just go ahead and spoil it, because its not really a major plot point, but they don't even fucking bury the thing. We're led to believe he's buried alive because we only see inside the coffin until the big reveal, and because this is, you know, supposed to be a vampire movie, but no, he's basically just locked up in a box in a room somewhere. He's supposed to be a vampire! Have the guy claw his way out of the coffin and climb out of the ground like he should have done when he was turned, which he never did, because he was never turned, because he's not a real vampire!

And the lead actor is so wooden and monotone that I'm amazed anyone thought it would be a good idea to make him the main character, let alone a freaking narrator. That being said, the rest of the cast is generally good, with the stand outs being the two vampire "twins" who don't look alike, and the patriarch of a rival vampire family who grows into an ultimately good villain. To the film's credit, they do at least make the distinction between breeding vampires and non-breeding vampires into a plot point through this character, but by then its just too little too late on that front. And I don't understand why the movie spends so much time with the Thompson family apart from one another in different locations, when obviously the main draw should be their unique family dynamic. This movie might as well have been called The Thompson, because there's only one who gets sufficient screen time, relegating the rest of them to extended cameos, and the one we follow just happens to be the least interesting one.

Perhaps it is unfair for me to judge this movie at all considering I haven't seen the first in the series, so take my non-recommendation with a grain of salt. Still, the movie seems to go out of its way to make this as stand alone as possible, and what we get does not fill me with hope as to the first film's quality. I know for a fact that the main conceit of living vampires is still present in the first one, which is basically what ruined this one for me. If you can get passed that, the movie isn't really all that poorly made and there might just be enough here to make The Thompsons something just slightly more than a waste, but even then, probably not worth it. There is a good idea here somewhere, sort of a twist on Near Dark with a more sympathetic set of protagonists, but it never quite makes it there, and ultimately just fumbles into blandness.

Next up, Vampire dating from the director of Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Clueless. Ugh.
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