Judge Gordon Sullivan isn't nervous about vampires. He just loves garlic bread.
They're not scary. Not sexy. Not trendy. Just Belgian.
It's not fun to be obvious, but when there's such a glaring comparison it's hard to avoid. See, Vampires is a Belgian black comedy that plays out as a mockumentary. Belgium is not known in the States as a huge exporter of films, so for American audiences (and only a select few of those), Belgium is most famous for a controversial film from 1992 called Man Bites Dog that just happens to be a black comedy that plays out as a fake documentary. The similarities, however, end there. Despite its generic title, Vampires stands on its own as decent light satire, though it hardly belongs in the same league as the best mockumentaries.
In the world of Vampires, the undead are out among us. After several attempts that end badly, a documentary crew finally finds a family willing to talk without endangering the filmmakers. The family is a typical suburban group, with mom, dad, and a pair of teenagers, girl and boy. As the film unfolds, we see that vampire families are not that different from human ones, with marital problems, financial issues, and typical teenage rebellion.
The supernatural has long been a means for creators to either get away with saying something unpopular or comment on regular human people. Sometimes both. As Buffy The Vampire Slayer has demonstrated, vampires make an excellent tool for dealing with social issues. Even the Twilight series, for all its vacuous lack of depth, is not much more than a mythic take on what it means to experience young love in a culture where the divorce rate is climbing ever higher and the specter of teen pregnancy still menaces far too many youngsters.
Vampires sets its satiric sights on the middle-class family. By taking typical suburban tropes (like the suicidal emo daughter) and flipping them upside down (she's a vampire so she can't commit suicide, so she longs to be human so she can die), Vampires pokes fun at figures we all know and love.
It sounds like a good idea on paper, and some of the best comedies out there are mockumentaries. However, Vampires never quite gives us the bite that it promises. For one thing, it doesn't have anything new to say or a new way to say it. A film like Man Bites Dog didn't have much of a point to make other than the fact that audiences and filmmakers (especially documentary filmmakers) are complicit in the violence in front of the camera. However, that film succeeded by taking that premise to an extreme that was unsettling and hard to ignore. Vampires has a similarly old premise—Middle-class suburban families are dysfunctional!—but it doesn't develop an equally new way to make this point. Instead, we get rehashed reality TV tropes, like candid interviews and handheld footage of the family. That's all well and good, but we can see more authentic versions of this footage that make the same point almost twenty-four hours a day on one channel or another. With neither a new point to make about its subjects nor a new way to present them, Vampires lacks the fangs necessary to leave an impression.
It's not all doom and gloom for Vampires. It has some subtle moments of commentary that are intriguing, like when the family is forced to leave Belgium for Canada. It also, despite its formula, has a few laughed buried here and there within the dynamics of this vampire family. As light satire, the film succeeds—it's eminently watchable, well-constructed, and well-acted—but I think at this point fans of vampire culture are looking for something beyond the safe confines of middle-class values; vampires suck blood and are associated with depraved sexuality. There's so much potential for black comedy inherent in the vampire premise, and the fact that Vampires doesn't begin to live up to the darkness of its characters can be frustrating, even when the film is satisfying as light entertainment.
The DVD release for Vampires is as wishy-washy as the film. The budget video stylings of the film are reproduced accurately on this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. That means we don't get much clarity, and black levels can fluctuate a bit with noise during some scenes. However, that's not the DVDs fault, and the "flaws" in the picture actually add to the film's overall atmosphere. The French 5.1 surround track does a fine job balancing the dialogue and effects, and there are subtitles in English helpfully provided. The main extra is a few minutes of deleted scenes, which are on par with the rest of the film and were probably cut for time more than anything else. The film's trailer is also included.
Vampires is a slight satire that sets its sights on middle-class families and the recent craze for vampires. The film provides some fine moments of comedy, but viewers will likely be left with the feeling that there's much more potential for dark humor buried in the film's premise. Worth a rental for fans of the undead, but for most viewers this won't of interest.
Vampires is a bit dead-on-arrival.
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