There has been a recent resurgence of quality, innovative horror films that are making their own noise while drawing respectfully from the classics of the genre. James Wan has been at the forefront of this movement with Insidious 1 & 2 and The Conjuring. Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have drawn the attention of one Quentin Tarantino with their masterful work Big Bad Wolves. Daughter of the renowned actor and director John Cassavetes, Xan Cassavetes has attempted to join this bold new club but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Kiss of the Damned is subtle but not complex, reverent but unoriginal, beautiful yet benign. For every sly nod to horror master Dario Argento there is an uninspired moment to suck the life from the film leaving a respectable yet insipid affair for the viewer.
Cassavetes paints a tender and painful portrait of the life of vampires harking back to the Dracula of old. Longing and reticent control of the powerful bloodlust within can make for highly compelling viewing. Unfortunately only lead actress Josephine de la Baume portrays this with any feeling. She plays Djuna, a vampiress who lives alone in order to slake her thirst for human blood only to fall in love with Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia). She must turn him to continue their affair but their tranquil existence is threatened by the arrival of her uncontrollable sister Mimi (Roxanne Mesquida).
Ventimiglia does little in his role and Mesquida is laughable but not on the right side of kitsch to make the performance comical. Occasionally stunted dialogue plagues the film, incidental moments cracking the veneer of stylish sexy vampirism. A little less focus on style over substance might have stood the film in much better stead. As it happens the style saves the film from being lost amidst the dregs of the horror genre completely. The sumptuous visuals exemplified most astutely in a dark, piano laced sequence in which Djuna leads Paolo through the woods to make his first kill. The mix of crisp modern directing and the floating mesmerism of the old school masters is as genius a stroke as the soundtrack that echoes that of Goblin’s in Suspiria.
Alas the film is nothing more than a heartfelt but ponderous ode to the rich visuals available to modern lenses. If the depth of character matched the depth of focus Kiss of the Damned would have found itself welcomed in the new club of quality horror but instead is left hat in hand in front of a closed door.
Kiss of the Damned is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 27th courtesy of Eureka! Entertainment