Magnolia Pictures // 2012 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 9th, 2013
Her love will never die.
A lot of people assume that nepotism gets you far in Hollywood. That may be the case -- knowing the right person can certainly get a script read rather than thrown away. However, the children of the famous actors and directors have to fight an uphill battle that those with no family connection simply don't deal with. First, there's the constant assumption that no matter what they achieve, it's because they're the child of someone famous. More problematically, whatever they create is judged on the same plane as the parents' success. Sofia Coppola has had to contend with both these criticisms in the past. We can now add Xan Cassavetes to the list as well. She's the daughter of famous actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands. When she steps behind the camera she has one of the more singular voices in cinema as one parent, and one of the greatest actresses of her generation as the other. Audiences are primed to expect great things. Her debut feature, Kiss of the Damned doesn't live up to her parents' expectations, but it does deliver a solid vampire picture that shows Xan has a voice worth developing further.
Djuna (Josephine de La Baume, One Day) is a vampire living the isolated life of a poetry translator. She lives alone in a mansion, surviving by killing animals. Her only contact with humanity comes when she visits the local video store. There, she meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia, Heroes), and falls for him immediately. Though she rebuffs his advances, he's persistent -- Djuna reveals her vampire nature to him, they start a relationship, and she turns him. Things are going swimmingly until Djuna's sister Mimi (Roxanne Mesquida, Rubber) shows up to tempt the pair with human flesh.
An early scene in Kiss of the Damned tells you pretty much everything you need to know about it. We see a montage of Djuna hanging around her house with credits, followed by her trip to the video store. This video store still rents VHS tapes (apparent by the oversize cases). Into the store walks Paolo. Their eyes meet and smolder. She can't take the tension anymore and stalks out in a hurry. She stymied at the door by pouring rain. Paolo joins her outside and makes a comment about the weather. We then cut to the pair eating in a restaurant under subdued lighting.
Yes, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Kiss of the Damned. First, we've got a kind of throwback vibe, evidence by both the existence of the video store (rare in itself these days) and the fact that they still rent VHS tapes. This is a film that puts the vampire tail firmly back in the VHS era of the '80s and '90s. Expect no sparkling skin or moody teens. We also know immediately that this film is going to be about these two characters and their instant attraction. Those smoldering looks across the video store aisles eventually give way to a bit more than smoldering in the bedroom of Djuna's mansion. Finally, the shots of characters waiting in the rain call to mind other stylish attempts to control characters through the elements, which is to say that Kiss of the Damned doesn't always break new ground, but it does go for visual style.
The ultimate result is a vampire flick that's one part romance (with lots of sexual tension and release) and one part character study (especially when Mimi joins the mix). The overall style recalls other famously-sexual vampire flicks like The Hunger, though there's even less plot to drive Kiss of the Damned. There's a definite art-house vibe to the picture, which prizes style over storytelling most of the time. That's okay because the picture is stylish enough, and the leads captivating enough for most viewers to excuse the fact that this isn't a stake-fest or strict horror picture.
Kiss of the Damned (Blu-ray) gets an envy worthy presentation. Much of the film's running time is spent in darkened scenes, but this 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer handles that darkness perfectly. Black levels are deep and detailed, rock solid throughout. Detail is strong in those areas with light, and colors are well-saturated throughout. No compression artefacts or authoring problems show up either. It's a really solid transfer, especially for a film that's not high-profile. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly up to par. Dialogue is always clean and clear from the front, with the surrounds getting extensive use to establish atmosphere. Given that this is a more dramatic film, the subwoofer gets a surprising workout, with lots of rumbling during some scenes.
Extras start with a commentary by Xan Cassavetes. She's flying solo so this is a laid-back track, but she's great at providing background info and production stories. We also get a 10-minute interview with star Josephine de la Baume talking about her performance, and a similar (though shorter) interview with Roxane Mesquida. Another featurette includes an interview with Milo Ventimiglia and Mesquida again. Finally, the film's trailer is also included.
Every little piece of Kiss of the Damned is well done. The acting is excellent, the cinematography interesting, and the set design sharp. However, the whole isn't necessarily greater than the sum of the parts. The film's pace is slow, and the plot fairly minimal. Those looking for another Blade (or even a Twilight) clone will be disappointed. The film is also totally unashamed about its sexuality; this isn't cheap softcore cable stuff, but it is a film that tries to imbue every scene with sexual tension. Those not looking to enjoy those pleasures should look elsewhere.
Kiss of the Damned is a nice respite from the recent spate of vampire flicks. It's mature and sexual in a way that few fanged features of late have really attempted. The fact that it's really a character study masquerading as a vampire feature certainly helps. It's worth a look for those into vampire films, the actors, or erotically charged dramas. Kiss of the Damned (Blu-ray) is well-produced and worth at least a rental to those intrigued by the film's premise.
Not for everyone, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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