Josephine de la Baume
1 Hr., 37 Mins.
Kiss of the Damned
BO’s True Blood (2008-’14) is sexier – and better – than Xan Cassavetes’ self-serious vampire movie Kiss of the Damned (2013) for a number of reasons, and such is not strictly because the poreless, physically taut actors at the center take their clothes off more often. Part of the charm and carnal prowess of True Blood had to do with its almost pointedly refusing to take itself seriously. Sure, all the tropes of all your least favorite bloodsucker movies and TV shows were there – biting as a sexual act, hissing, gore, habitual brooding, tastefully graphic sex scenes, at least one reference to Bram Stoker. But it also was very much aware
of how absurd it all was. It was real with itself, deciding from the get-go that this cocktail of prettied-up sex and rose-colored vampirism was going to at least inject a couple milligrams of liquid black humor into its immortal, muscular bicep.
Kiss of the Damned is like True Blood in a few ways. It gleefully watches outrageously sexy actors indulge themselves in genital-enhanced tête-à-têtes. It plays up a sultry, woodsy atmosphere that evokes memories of Tennessee Williams and Body Heat (1981). It is unafraid of, and maybe even celebratory of, pandering to lurid interest.
But it doesn’t work. Because it’s clearly bent on paying homage to the sleazy filmography of Jess Franco and the singularity of Tony Scott’s definitive vampire pic The Hunger (1983), it appears self-important and sort of laughable. Moments that should be campy are delivered with a dangerously straight face. No one in the room treats the dialogue as the dilapidated exploitation chic that it is. It doesn’t help that most of Franco’s movies, and most of The Hunger in general, also don’t succeed because of those reasons. Cassavetes regrettably recreates as many of the downfalls of these features as she does the high points, which were often few and far between anyway.
So the film’s sort of a question mark: it’s too stylish to be boring, too numbingly earnest to be good. It stars Josephine de la Baume as Djuna, a flame-haired creature of the night living in Connecticut. Spending her nights hunting for woodland animals and spending her days lounging around her sprawling mansion in the middle of nowhere, she’s lived this same kind of individualistic lifestyle for centuries. She’d be happy keeping it that way.
But then enters Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), a rugged screenwriter sojourning in the area to finish his latest project. He and this hemoglobin-dependent lady meet by chance in a bar, and for him, it’s love at first sight – he’d do anything to be with this fiery femme. But Djuna’s not so certain: attraction’s mutual, but she knows that their being together will have to involve him crossing over into vampirism, too.
The Bella to her Edward, Paolo’s willing. (We’d say it’s too fast, but then again, Ventimiglia and de la Baume have no chemistry.) After he turns, the relationship proves euphoric and passionate, instantaneously lived in. That bliss lasts for several months.
But then it’s interrupted by Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), Djuna’s immoral sister who decides to crash at her sibling’s humble abode out of nowhere. This stirs up trouble: not only is Mimi a beast who strictly hunts humans, she’s also a femme fatale determined to seduce and then possibly destroy Paolo.
This is all very Vampyros Lesbos (1971) meets Stephanie Meyer, but part of me figures Kiss of the Damned is too stilted to even be worthy of those already semi-insulting comparisons. On paper does this storyline sound compelling, like melodramatic erotic fodder kissed off by blood-red lips.
But Cassavetes doesn’t play up to that seedy potential: she’s set on delivering the goods as if they were the cinematic equivalent of Yves Saint Laurent haute couture, inherently Gallic and aesthetically breathtaking but too mannered to be much more than eye candy you can’t afford to love. I do like the feminist slant, though – Cassavetes confidently writes female characters who are unabashed in their wanting to quench their sexual thirsts. But even then, Kiss of the Damned is too drowsy to make an impression. Not everyone can be Charlaine Harris, I guess. C-