Written and directed by the controversial Shunji Iwai, this is a vampire movie that’s not really a vampire movie.
In fact, the minimalistic title refers to a biology teacher who, convinced to be the famous night creature, looks for young suicidal women online to quench his thirst of blood. Rather than violent, his acts are quite peaceful and always consented.
Out of his 28 movies, Vampire is the only Iwai’s motion picture in English (no need to read subtitles for this one guys!) and it features an all-star cast composed by Kevin Zegers (Gossip Girls), Amanda Plummer (Hunger Games and Hannibal), Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D), Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) among the others.
And, trust me, you have never seen a movie like Vampire in your entire life. In fact, most likely you never will.
This film is a two hours long combination between grounded, realistic, minimalistic filmmaking and artsy, surreal tone. Thus, it’s no surprise that both critics and moviegoers panned the movie to the point Vampire had gone lost in obscurity.
Why do I want to recommend the film to you, then? First of all, Iwai’s effort features the best camera-work I’ve seen in any movie that came out in the last 20-25 years. I’m not exaggerating: Vampire benefits from a gorgeous cinematography (designed by the director himself) that works perfectly in combination with genius editing and camera angles – again, Iwai is the main responsible for that, backed up by a team of 11 Japanese cameramen who pulled off something unseen in horror cinema.
I know what you’re thinking right now: «Cinematography, technical features… cut the bullshit! Is the story good? Is the movie scary?».
The answer to the second question is no, it’s not scary. Not in a traditional way, that is. In my opinion, Vampire manages to maintain a dreadful atmosphere for the most part of the long runtime, with some off-putting sequences that are truly hard to sit through. For instance, if you’re afraid of needles, you’d want to avoid this movie as a deadly plague.
In terms of story and script, this awkward film is surely fantastic. Amongst many vampire movies filled with sub-genre clichés – which, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind, being myself a fan of this type of flicks – Iwai’s film is a breath of fresh air. It depicts the mythological creatures of the night in a way that’s never been put on screen before: Simon, the biology professor and leading star of the movie, is ashamed of his actions; he’s gentle, self-controlled and very sympathetic. He chooses victims among those people who want to end their lives, he tries to convince them they have reasons to live for and, eventually, he accepts their life-gifts reluctantly but gratefully.
Vampires, in this film, are more human than supernatural: Simon, who meets others of his kind along the way, comes across deranged people, compulsive liars and rapists. All of them are vampires on paper, but their actions just resemble the worst human sins.
In this sense, the title isn’t a misrepresentation: the word “vampire” in this instance is metaphorical for the leeching dependence that one person seeks from another in an effort to feel vibrantly connected to life.
As I said before, Vampire isn’t purely an – almost – offensively realistic film. It’s also dream-like and surreal, with this aspect conveying a strong symbolism – which is, mostly, connected to unconventional and psychologically challenging cinematography. Iwai’s film works perfectly as a drama as well, in the exploration of themes like loss, desperation, suicide, undisclosed desires and depression.
Just to be clear, this movie is very much a downer that leaves no space for hope or any form of improvement.
As much as I love Vampire, I also believe the story is bigger than its execution. In other words, this motion picture doesn’t live up to the exceptionality of the script it’s based on.
My main complaint revolves around the acting, often wooden – in this regard, the underwhelming performance of Kevin Zegers in the lead role is very disappointing. We, as viewers, are forced to deal with him for the most part of the movie, which caused me quite a bit of frustration.
Yet, the sound design isn’t as polished and neat as it should have been, especially during the first half of the film.
Finally, Vampire deliberately reduced to a minimum the entertainment value. This aspect could be dreadful for more mainstream audiences. Personally, as long as I get to live a cinematic experience, entertainment isn’t my main concern; however, this aspect of Iwai’s film lessens its rewatchability factor, a downside not to be overlooked.
In conclusion, I must say reviewers and moviegoers overuse the words “unique viewing experience”, but these words suit perfectly Vampire. Purely for that, I think this film doesn’t deserve its limited – very limited, indeed – cult following; thus, you should check it out as soon as possible.
Corpses, coffins, and pointed teeth may not play a role here but, for some, the real themes of Vampire are more frightening than any Transylvanian monster story could ever be.
Vampire (2011) – 7/10