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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 05.09.13] horror romance vampires

It was apparent from the trailer for Xan Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned that her take on the vampire was more of a throwback to the 70s than the modern teen-friendly stories which have been popular of late. For that reason alone it's a movie that will never quite fit into the mainstream after all, not only does it have a very specific aesthetic, it's very adult, explicitly sexual, luscious and totally delicious.

It's the story of Djuna (Josephine de La Baume), an ageless vampire hiding out in an expansive manse outside of the city. A chance encounter at the video store brings her and Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) together and the two immediately share a connection which rapidly morphs from lust to love to a comfortable existence with the two preparing to share eternity together. Their quiet life is turned upside down by the arrival of Mimi (Roxane Mesquida). Djuna's little sister is a troublemaker. While most vampires are trying to live under the radar, setting up a new society for themselves with rules and regulations, Mimi is wild and uncontrollable, everything her sister is not.

One would assume that the story would centre almost solely on Djuna's relationship with Paolo and though that's certainly explored, Kiss of the Damned goes much further than that, delving into one woman's struggle with being a vampire. Djuna seems tortured by what she is and she seems to find solace in the rules that her society, led by Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), a recovering trouble maker herself, are setting into motion; they don't hunt indiscriminately, they don't feed from humans and they certainly don't turn strangers and leave newborns to fend for themselves. Mimi is in contrast to all of it and though she too is of the mind that vampires are the dominant creatures, she's happy to take full advantage of her strength and knack for manipulation to get what she wants.

The story is nothing new and neither are the themes that run through Cassavetes' movie. Themes of loneliness, despair and sadness of living for eternity at the cost of drinking blood are all ideas which have synthesis in other works, many of them have even been explored on a regular basis in True Blood (the movie's closest companion of late). What makes Kiss of the Damned interesting is that it delivers all of these ideas in a package that's sensual and gorgeous and grizzly all at the same time but with a control that's mostly lacking in its TV counterpart. The vampire transformations are ugly, the blood letting is messy and the sexual energy lingers in every corner but it's also very refined; the mixing of music styles and fashion is a beautiful way to wordlessly mark these individuals as being out of time but also provides a gorgeous background for the unfolding events.

The movie has a deep rooted European flavour and though it's certainly an erotic thriller it also has great overtones of classic horror movies: monsters you never fully see and a color pallet that is very often reminiscent of Dario Argento's work not to mention the excellent use of sound.

As great as the aesthetic are what really captured me is Djuna and Mimi's story. De La Baume is the perfect picture of a tortured soul, both strong and vulnerable and soft featured while Mesquida (best known for her work with Catherine Breillat and Quentin Dupieux) is her complete opposite, a collection of strength, cunning and dark features. Their relationship is far more complicated than it appears on the surface and I love that Cassavetes explores just enough of it to let the mind wonder with speculation.

I was enthralled from the opening moments of Kiss of the Damned and though the ending is perfect for the story, I was disappointed. I wanted to spend more time with these characters and in this world and though we may never get to see where Djuna and Paolo's life takes them, there's no doubt that I'll be lining up for whatever story Xan Cassavetes decides to tell next.

Kiss of the Damned is currently available on VOD and theatrically, expanding to more markets in the coming weeks.

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