My notes on the new vampire movie, out in US theatres on June 2. Available on demand and digital HD June 6.
A quiet, emotional little vampire movie – very different plotwise from Afflicted, The Transfiguration or Let the Right One In, but in the same understated register.
Widowed blue-collar guy Aaron Diaz (James Martinez) is a doting father to Tate (Trevor Stovall), a speccy, studious, slightly sullen kid whose problems with school bullies are exacerbated by haemophilia – so that even a minor scrape could have fatal complications. An escalation in the feud between Tate and locker room thug Justin (Noah Heekin) puts the kid in hospital in critical condition – but, after a blood transfusion, he recovers. Like Spider-Man, he no longer needs glasses and suddenly has a gift for basketball and sensing dangers from behind – but he also starts shunning the sunlight and thirsting for blood.
Realising what has happened to the boy, Aaron sets out to track down the possibly undead blood donor Mrs Dasher (Laurie Seymour) – in an unnerving, creepy little sequence – even as he finds himself caught between low-rent vampire killers Earl (Michael Chieffo) and Mike (Michael Peach) and a hospital chaplain who has been around a long time Father Kane (Daved Castellvi). As with many vampire movies, a lot of time in spent on working out the rules – how the transformation progresses, what degree of murderousness is to be expected, and is there a cure? In an instance of the frog-boiling approach to belief in the supernatural, this gives Aaron’s agonising over how to cope with his son’s vampirism the same weight it gives his earlier issues with bullying and bleeding. The injustice of a victim being suspended under a zero-tolerance policy for shoving back when the bully is coddled by the school bites … as much as the later dictates of doctrinaire Van Helsings that it’s the father’s responsibility to behead his son before he goes full nocturnal and starts on a killing spree.
The spine is the relationship between the intense, yet everyday Aaron and his son, who is interestingly almost a neutral character even before turning vampire … it doesn’t play for sentiment or the cutes, and there’s a palpable sense of the danger Tate poses to the thuggish Justin but also any innocents who happen to be around when he gets hungry. Writer-director Tommy Stovall uses a Wes Craven technique of featuring several elaborate dream sequences which seem to take the story into new directions, but are then revoked … sometimes, this effect can seem like a stunt to get extra shocks into a slow-paced horror but here they serve to illustrate the darkest fears the protagonist has, not so much for and of his son but the degree of his own culpability in the situation. Both the vampires and the vampire hunters here are disturbingly matter-of-fact, not playing out some vast struggle between good and evil but just trying to get by unobtrusively.
This is the sort of genre fare it’s too easy to underrate – it doesn’t go for big effects, or even a startlingly new take on its subject, but concentrates on telling a persuasive, character-based story.
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