The good news, is that if you're intrigued before or after reading this review Kiss of the Damned is available ahead of theatrical release on various video on demand channels. The less good news is that in my opinion you'd be way way better off watching We Are the Night again (so long as you can avoid the dubbed version on Netflix). There are some reasons to watch the film, mainly a couple of interesting shots that made me really sit up straighter when they hit the screen. But overall I was seriously underwhelmed.
I'm going to stray really close and perhaps a smidge over the spoiler line in what follows. But I don't think it's going to take away from the film much ... if Kiss of the Damned is going to speak to you it's not because of the minor plot point transgressions I make below.
The storyline is some serious back to the basics stuff. Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is a screenwriter who has holed up at a friend's house to work on his next film. Out browsing VHS tapes at the local video store he meets Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) and falls immediately in lust with her. The feeling is seriously mutual. It quickly becomes clear that Paolo has either never seen a vampire movie before or he's faced with reduced faculties due to her hotness messing with his head. For whatever reason her problem with a "skin condition" and unusually fancy living arrangement (including a rather protective housekeeper) are completely ignored. Before you know it the two have shacked up together and there's an extra vampire running around the neighborhood. These are generally "good" vampires - working hard to stay under the radar. But when Djuana's sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) comes to town things get out of control.
Xan Cassavetes has done several things really right with Kiss of the Damned. All with the look of the picture. Her visual style nails the euro-horror trash look that the trailer hints at. At least that's what I'm pretty sure the intent is. With this particular look it's hard to say the any of the occasionally bad acting, lighting, or sound mixing issues weren't intentional. More notably there's at least two very impressive shots that alone may make taking a look worth your time. The first is hinted at in the trailer where Paolo and Djuna kiss through a half closed door. In context it's a startlingly effective transfer of the pair's lustful impatience to get at each other directly into the audience's head. She wants him, but fears killing him. He just wants her. That hinting comes to life as they claw at each other through the wooden barrier. The second shot appears much later in the film as Mimi hunts - rushing a victim from behind in a way that I'll leave to viewers to discover. Serious oomph as it really did make me twitch in probably the one moment of fear produced during the screening.
Yet ... for having some stand out goodness as an overall picture Kiss of the Damned didn't properly hold my attention. It's not scary enough, not sexy enough, and certainly not plot rich enough to pull me in. Most of the sex scenes just came across as lukewarm at best. There's barely a nod given to character motivations - and beyond everyone being good looking the attractions aren't particularly clear. Not to mention that Paolo's early actions make him appear annoyingly as thick as a board. That trailer scene when she's chained to the bed covers both issues. The context of course is that she wants him badly enough to invite him in and strip down a bit. But insists on chaining herself to the bed so he can't be hurt when she's at her most of of control. During the obligatory thrashing about scene I kept wondering how if she required binding with such thick chains wouldn't the the bed posts they were secured to shatter under such strength. Perhaps not the frame of mind Cassavetes intended audience members to have when the camera was focused on such a gorgeous vampire. Then there's the part about how Paolo frees her just after she's demonstrated the likelihood of being an undead psycho-killer. I get he is accepting her issues and intent on joining her forever - but if there wasn't a chance of him ending up dead-dead (as opposed to undead) you'd think she would've saved the trip to Home Depot in the first place.
The broader plot itself involves your standard rich, above it all vampires, Mimi's struggle with her addiction, sibling rivalries, a brief side point about virgin blood and an ending that's more thoroughly unsatisfying than you'd believe if I told you. It's not really out of place in a film that skips motivations and never really builds dramatic tension. But it does remind one in retrospect how Kiss of the Damned is far more an exercise in style than substance. Lot of interesting bits that could've been explored further but ends up being a mild addition to the overly atmospheric bloodsucker genre (with a few really choice visual moments).
SXSW Red Carpet Photos
I was lucky enough to cover the arrivals of the film's director and principals while attending SXSW. If you're interesting in Kiss of the Damned I figure you might be interested in these photos as well.
|Director and primary cast of Kiss of the Damned|
|Josephine de La Baume|
|Roxane Mesquida and Josephine de La Baume hugging|
|Josephine de La Baume|
|Kiss of the Damned cast being photographed|