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quietearth [Film Festival 05.12.10] Belgium movie review horror comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Vincent Lannoo
Writers: Vincent Lannoo & Frédérique Broos
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 8 out of 10

Mention Belgium to most genre film fans and they're going to think of Man Bites Dog, the revolutionary 1992 horror comedy that used a mock documentary style to alternately amuse and terrify its audience. Vampires is another Belgian film that takes its cue from Remy Belvaux and André Bonzel's classic, playing down the horror and elevating the humour to great effect.

A documentary film crew introduces us to husband and wife Georges and Bertha and their children Samson and Grace, a family of vampires living in suburban Belgium. Georges is a bit creepy, Bertha a little unhinged and Samson a bit of a tearaway, but otherwise they seem like a normal family. Grace is a teenager going through a difficult phase, repeatedly trying to kill herself (which, as an immortal vampire, she can't) and yearning to be human. It's a comedy set up, and this part of the film provides the most laughs in a very funny movie.

As in Man Bites Dog, underneath is a darker sensibility. The vampires must feed, and keep illegal immigrants in a pen behind their house. Terrified strangers from the street are brought in to be slaughtered. Vampires never touches the full horror of Man Bites Dog's rapes and murders – something many would argue is a good thing – but makes a good attempt to jolt you out of your complacency and think a little about what you're laughing at.

The plight of the illegal immigrants is an obvious nod to their lowly status in Europe – it is made clear that no-one is going to miss them, and that indeed they are supplied by the local police – but something altogether darker is hinted at. The paedophile tastes of a young vampire living in the family's basement are mentioned, along with the government and police complicity that allows the vampires to hunt, in a subtle but undoubtedly deliberate nod to the Marc Dutroux criminal case that rocked Belgium in recent years. A particularly cruel and ingenious paedophile, Dutroux kept his victims locked in a basement, and claimed he was a scapegoat for a paedophile ring involving senior politicians and members of the judiciary when caught, a conspiracy some still believe. It's a passing moment in the film, but one that adds a whole new dimension to the otherwise fairly light satire.

When the family transgresses vampire law (passed down through the generations by Count Dracula) and are exiled to Canada, the seriousness is forgotten and Vampires reverts to pure comedy. There is simply too much scope for humour in the set up to dwell on the satirical side, and it is to Vampire's credit that it doesn't, never overplaying its hand.

Vampires is so in debt to Man Bites Dog it could be dismissed as copycat if it wasn't so good. While the mock documentary style isn't exactly original the way the vampire theme is handled definitely is, with a whole world within a world of laws, elders and delinquents invented to give Belgian vampire society a weighty believability. The cast and script are superb, cramming more laughs into a few minutes than most films manage in an hour. It's a lighter, more fun version of the film that inspired it, that still stays true to its serious satirical spirit.

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