Synopsis: Beautiful vampire Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) tries to resist the advances of the handsome, human screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), but eventually gives in to their passion. When her troublemaker sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) unexpectedly comes to visit, Djuna’s love story is threatened, and the whole vampire community becomes endangered…
Release Date: May 3, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Horror, Romance
Vampires have been a bone of contention ever since the Twilight movies softened them up in 2008. Actress Xan Cassavetes (Alpha Dog) attempts to revise the revisionists with her full length debut as a writer and director, a modern vampire tale called Kiss of the Damned.
Kiss of the Damned stars Josephine de La Baume (One Day) as a vampire named Djuna who, while out one night, meets a charming screenwriter named Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia from That’s My Boy). Paolo is immediately taken with Djuna, but she is reluctant to start a relationship with a mortal. As she caves in to his advances, he learns all of her secrets, and doesn’t care; he still falls in love with her. In a fit of passion, she changes him into a vampire, and begins to teach him how to survive – hunting and drinking animal blood instead of killing humans. Djuna introduces him to the other vampires in town and immerses him in their nocturnal culture. No sooner does Paolo start to get used to his new life than Djuna’s sister, Mimi (Rubber‘s Roxane Mesquida) arrives to stay with them for a while. Mimi is the polar opposite of Djuna, making trouble wherever she goes and paying no attention to the consequences of her actions. While Djuna just wants to enjoy life with Paolo, Mimi seems bent on destroying her out of jealousy and spite. Djuna has to choose between her love for Paolo and her loyalty to her sister.
Conceptually, Kiss of the Damned is on the right track. Cassavetes’ vampires are a throwback to the charming, sophisticated vampires of classic horror. The vampires are powerful yet vulnerable, exhibiting strength as well as weaknesses. The characters owe as much to Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark as they do to Tod Browning’s Dracula, but are still much more sexy and seductive than Twilight‘s Edward Cullen. The overall look and feel of the film evokes the spirit of Italian horror films by the likes of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci without dating itself. The technical aspects of the film are well done, making it an effective experience, both visually and aurally. The filmmaking is not the problem with Kiss of the Damned.
Where Kiss of the Damned falls short is in the creative elements of the film. It feels like a group of unrelated scenes strung together, giving it an episodic feel. The film’s sequences are uneven, never seeming to connect into a coherent story. The film is not disjointed in the art-film way that so many other vampire and horror films are; Kiss of the Damned is played straight, and the film suffers because of it. The performances of the actors are passable (even above average in the case of Roxane Mesquida), but they are trapped in the confines of a poor story. Cassavetes’ heart is in the right place, and Kiss of the Damned is a better vampire movie than any of the Twilight films, but it is still a less-than-stellar representation of legend and lore.
Xan Cassavetes gives the impression of being an auteur with Kiss of the Damned, and that may be one of the film’s limitations. A skilled screenwriter may have been able to save the film. As it is, Cassavetes’ script is unevenly paced and has only the slightest arc, so it never really feels like it gets going. Cassavetes does not have an ear for dialogue, and many of the lines are completely on-the-nose, spoon feeding exposition to the audience instead of subtly placing clues. There is a ton of information in the film that is told instead of shown, and the script seems overly wordy because of it. The potential is there; if Cassavetes had turned the writing over to someone with a stronger command of story structure, Kiss of the Damned would have been a much better film.
The vampires in Kiss of the Damned are not the scary bloodsuckers that audiences have come to know and love in films like Fright Night and Near Dark. While they pack a little more punch than modern pop vampires, they are not very scary. The film doesn’t evoke many emotions at all, especially fear. It’s not a pure horror film, so sheer terror is most likely not its intention, but vampires should be a least a little mysterious and frightening, and these ones are not. If Kiss of the Damned‘s mission is to scare, it fails.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Xan Cassavetes
- Screenwriter(s): Xan Cassavetes
- Cast: Josephine de La Baume (Djuna)Milo Ventimiglia (Paolo)Roxane Mesquida (Mimi) Anna Mouglalis (Xenia)Michael Rappaport (Ben)Riley Keough (Anne)
- Cinematographer: Tobias Datum
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Steven Hufsteter
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA