Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Xan Cassavetes
Writer: Xan Cassavetes
Producer: Jen Gatien, Alex Orlovsky
Stars: Josephine de La Baume, Milo Ventimiglia, Roxane Mesquida, Michael Rapaport, Riley Keough, Anna Mouglalis
Vampire Djuna’s romance with the newly turned Paolo is uprooted when her sister Mimi endangers the entire vampire community.
Modern vampire fiction leans heavily into one of two directions. The story either focuses on the horror associated with night creatures drinking the blood of humans or on the perceived eroticism of a seductive vampire drawing blood in the throes of passion. Some films or TV shows, such as “True Blood,” blend the two for broader entertainment. But generally, the aim is to appeal to fans either of bloody terror or of sensual romance. “Kiss of the Damned” goes for the latter, though it still includes scenes geared for the former.
“Kiss of the Damned” has a measured stride, which is to say that it develops slowly, but purposefully. The only thing that does not move slowly is the romance between its two main characters. Theirs is the type of fast-paced movie courtship that is only believable between exotic characters named Djuna and Paolo. When a relationship goes from first meeting to true love in 15 minutes, something about European accents makes it seem more plausible than if the characters were named Chip and Jenny.
Not long after meeting in a video rental store (presumably the story is set prior to the early 1990’s, when such places flourished), Djuna and Paolo mutually agree that spending the rest of their lives together is in their best interests. They can spend the rest of their deaths together as well, because it turns out that Djuna is a vampire, and Paolo wants her to make him one, too.
Indoctrinating Paolo into the ways of the undead and then “living” happily ever after is going to have to wait, however. Djuna’s bad girl sister Mimi is coming over for a weeklong visit, and she is bringing her bad girl ways with her. Djuna belongs to a sect of vampires that chooses to feed on animals instead of humans, while Mimi prefers to indulge in her true nature. Were it up to her, Djuna would have entirely nothing at all to do with her petulant sister. Except Mimi and Djuna are subject to the rule of their aristocratic clan leader and wealthy benefactor Xenia. Xenia says that the two girls should make nice. Of course, Mimi is all too happy to find new ways of introducing grief into the household. And those ways usually involve humans with their necks torn open.
In some ways, “Kiss of the Damned” is a metaphor for alcoholism. Vampires struggling to live in a world of relative normalcy resist their addictive need to feed on human blood. Alcoholic vampire Mimi then sweeps into their lives and brings a whirlwind of destruction with her reckless hemoglobin consumption. She also gets off on taunting and tempting the recovering addict vampires by parading virginal blood in front of their faces, just daring someone to join her in a wanton relapse.
“Kiss of the Damned” indulges in all of the elegant pageantry that comes with high society vampire eroticism. An upper crust dinner party for the elite amongst the bloodsuckers showcases chic production design and even chicer fashion. After dinner conversation replaces talk of conservative politics with pundit-like dissections and observations on contemporary vampire-human relations. This is a movie in love with its own sense of style and it makes no apologies for that fact.
“Kiss of the Damned” is a good looking film. The lighting is strikingly crisp. The colors are vibrant, yet their muted tones keep them from being unmotivated or overbearing. The score lends occasional hints of giallo’s heyday and vibes that ring of a seventies sensibility.
Those with the patience to bear out the story and be hypnotized by the mood will still find that it is not all wine and roses. Mimi’s English as a second language accent makes for some very stilted dialogue delivery, for instance. And anyone hungering for action the way a vampire hungers for blood will leave the film thirsty. But for an art house interpretation of vampiric bloodlust, “Kiss of the Damned” can be as seductive as its subject matter. Going back to that comparison drawn in the first paragraph, just make sure to prepare for more of the one, and not so much of the other.
Review Score: 70