Double Feature Fridays: Vampires
Two delicious vampire films that are sure to satisfy your bloodlust
Like most movie monsters, vampires began as folklore and eventually made their way to fiction. Almost every society on earth had their version of these blood-guzzling former humans, which led to the eventual creation of some famously terrifying (and famously bad) films. The vampire archetype has evolved over time, adjusting to cultural changes. For example, vampires signified a fear of the foreigner in its early days, but from the Fifties to the Seventies, the sexual revolution turned Count Dracula into a charismatic sex symbol. In some form or other, they’ve always been a part of cinema’s oeuvre: as angsty loners (Nosferatu), bloodthirsty villains (Blade), and even romantic interests (Twilight).
What makes vampires a great tool for storytelling is the ‘rules and regulations’ of their existence, and how they toe the line between humanity and monstrosity. Vampires are essentially outsiders, isolated and misunderstood, unable to fit in. This is demonstrated by qualities like their pale appearance and poor social skills, in addition to their inability to venture into sunlight or enter a house without permission. They also hold up a mirror to our worst instincts: as they wrestle their own bloodlust, gain power by hurting others, and are able to convert their victims into cruel versions of themselves. Vampires are usually immortal, allowing exploration of the human desire for eternal life, and what it could do to a soul.
To maintain their relevance, vampires have to be portrayed in fresh ways that haven’t already been saturated. This week on Double Feature Fridays, we’re examining two unique interpretations of vampires, the New Zealand ensemble comedy What We Do In The Shadows, and the Swedish coming-of-age drama Let The Right One In.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Made in the mockumentary style, What We Do In The Shadows follows the squabbles and struggles of being roommates in Wellington… while being undead. It focusses on four vampires: ranging from the young, hip, ’suave’ type to an 8,000-year-old abomination who only speaks in shrieks and sleeps in a coffin. With the dream team of Jermaine Clement and Take Waititi (Flight Of The Conchords, Thor: Ragnarok) writing and starring, What We Do In The Shadows blasts throughout its lean 86-minute runtime. It’s impossible to dislike this New Zealand production, a spoof of vampire genres that covers as many clichés and archetypes as possible and milks them for some very bizarre millennial-style comedy. The popular film has also been picked up by FX, and will be turned into a TV series set in New York.
It’s main appeal is its mundanity. These are immortal, supernatural beings, and they spend the entirety of the film worrying about prosaic practicalities: paying rent, repair work, doing the dishes, getting into nightclubs, and trying to understand modern technology like cameras or the internet. They also give us some inside gossip on vampires, regarding their wardrobe (“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then think, ‘Ooh, those are some nice pants!”) or why they drink the blood of virgins (“I think of it like this, if you’re going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it”). One of the best punchlines in the film is the mention of an ominous ‘Beast,’ the only being to have defeated the medieval vampire Vladislav. It just turns out to be an ex-girlfriend that he couldn’t get over. It’s packed with silly one-liners and awkward interactions, and the strong characterisation makes their friendship convincing. There’s even a hilariously chaotic sequence with cinema’s other ‘men gone wild,’ the werewolves. If you’re sick of vampires, you’ll enjoy laughing at them here.
Let The Right One In (2008)
A lonely 12-year old boy named Oskar hangs around his grey, snowbound neighborhood. His parents are separated, he has no friends, and is relentlessly targeted by a group of bullies. One day, he befriends a girl, the same age as him called Eli, but there’s something peculiar about her. She smells like a corpse and only comes out at night. “Are you really my age?” He asks. “Yes. But I’ve been this age for a very long time,” replies Eli.
They find a connection because neither of them have a place in the real world. A young romance begins to develop, and Eli’s power and bloodlust complicates their lives further. Let The Right One In, at its core, is a movie about the tribulations of adolescence. Directed by Thomas Alfredson, and based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s a moody, atmospheric drama with generous helpings of gore. But the blood isn’t exploited for spectacle, instead it feels earned and appears at pivotal moments of this sinister love story.
Both Eli and Oskar don’t understand how to navigate the world, and are affected by its oppressive structures. The adults in their lives don’t have any answers, just more questions. It’s a slow-paced narrative, that succeeds by using vampirism as a metaphor for the alienation one might feel as an adolescent. Although the Hollywood remake (Let Me In) is a competent one, it doesn’t live up to the gloomy aesthetic and staggering performances of the Swedish child actors. It’s a realistic childhood romance that also employs the suspense and jump scares of horror films. Don’t skip it.