Thursday, July 18, 2024

Movie Review (Venice Film Festival 2023): ‘Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person’ Lacks Any Real Depth

Director: Ariane Louis-Seize
Writers: Christine Doyon and Ariane Louis-Seize
Stars: Sara Montpetit, Noémie O’Farrell, Félix-Antoine Bénard

Synopsis: Sasha is a young vampire with a serious problem: she’s too sensitive to kill. When her exasperated parents cut off her blood supply, Sasha’s life is in jeopardy. Luckily, she meets Paul, a lonely teenager with suicidal tendencies who is willing to give his life to save hers. But their friendly agreement soon becomes a nocturnal quest to fulfill Paul’s last wishes before day breaks.

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person uses a 2000s indie drama-comedy mold to tell its story about a vampiric entity meeting a lonesome teenager willing to give up his life to save another. But that same mold it uses as a backbone makes Ariane Louis-Seize’s debut feature lose the sense of identity and uniqueness that arrives with its fascinating title. 

Vampirism is back on the big screen and pop culture after a long hiatus induced by people tired of the Twilight franchise (which isn’t as bad as most people say – they deserve some kind of reexamination). In recent years, you have seen more and more projects that involve vampirism, and that’s without counting the ones in pre-production (or that will be released later in the year), like Pablo Larraín’s El Conde, Chloe Zhao’s Dracula, and Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu. This year alone, there have been more films about vampires than I would have imagined coming into the year. Although some weren’t that good, some even turned out as awful horror pictures), I still appreciate that the classic blood-sucking beast is appearing more often on the big screen in various forms. 

Another has made its way through the fall festival circuit, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, taking an indie drama-comedy form to tell its vampirism tale, much like Warm Bodies did for zombies. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, Ariane Louis-Seize’s directorial debut goes for the deadpan comedic jugular rather than delving into the bloody mayhem or high-action-centered sequences. Instead, it serves as a conversation about life, death, and loneliness while somewhat defying some of the regularly seen vampire tropes due to its modern setting. The film begins on a weird and unexpected note; a family is celebrating the birthday of one of their daughters, Sasha, by gifting her a piano, which she plays without missing a note. And it is her first time touching one and a clown doing a magic performance. It is hard to pinpoint the film’s tone exactly, whether we should laugh or cringe. 

But one line on the three-minute mark gives us the clue that matches its title: “I can’t take this anymore. When do we eat him?” The family is eager to kill the clown and suck his blood. But the young girl is hesitant to do so; she is scarred by the whole thing, which gives her PTSD – her fangs haven’t arrived because of this. Her parents talk to plenty of psychiatrists (and psychologists) to help their daughter, but to no avail. Sasha can’t seem to shake off the image of a dead human body. A few years later, we see that Sasha (now played by Sara Montpetit) still plays the piano, doing so on the streets for some quick cash and living with her parents. 

Sasha continues her defiance against killing, even if it means that she dies because of starvation. Her parents are supplying her with the daily blood supply. But time is running out; she isn’t going to be living with them for the entirety of their lives, nor will they be able to provide as time passes by. That’s when they decided to cut Sasha off and force their daughter to move in with her sister Denise (Noémie O’Farrell), who doesn’t give out free samples of the crimson red unless someone helps her with the “dirty job” of finding, and eventually killing, a random person. Of course, Sasha doesn’t want to do so; she even interrupts one of Denise’s hunts by blasting the car’s horn. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sasha is starving for blood and doesn’t know what to do. 

Eventually, Sasha ends up in a suicide prevention group to express her feelings about the matter to an unknowing group. There, she meets the person who is potentially changing her life, a young kid who would deliberately sacrifice his life to save another’s, Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard) – a desolate teenager with suicidal tendencies. They make a friendly agreement to seal the deal. However, Sasha believes that before she bites his neck and relieves the pain he has been bottling up for years, she must fulfill some of Paul’s last wishes. This setup leads the vampire and the teenager on a journey to help Paul leave a mark on the world before the deepest sleep. Throughout their journey, individually and collectively, the duo encountered a couple of scenarios that help them reflect on their ongoing situations. 

Sasha and Paul’s dynamic is obviously weird given the circumstances under which they meet and considering that the former is a vampire. However, both of them are quite similar on the inside. They are two meandering lost souls who, for one reason or another, are devoid of life. The film doesn’t give them many moments in which they could find themselves, or their place in the world, together. It is focused more on separate contemplation. This loosens the effect of their slowly building relationship, even with the occasionally charming moments where they connect with one another through similar emotions about loneliness, death, and fractured family dynamics. 

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person (a great title that gets everyone’s attention) has been prepared and tuned in a mid-2000s indie drama-comedy mold, specifically those that center around two lonely people. Think about films like Igby Goes Down, Broken Flowers, or Garden State, but instead, one of the leads is a vampire who doesn’t want to kill, and the other is a suicidal teenager. While Louis-Seize plays with vampire tropes and cliches a bit in her debut film, making a killer beast into a humanist, she doesn’t do the same with the film’s structure and plot development. She uses the aforementioned films, as well as her own preoccupations with death, as inspiration to help her construct the backbone of this story. However, those same inspirations cause this vampire movie to lose the tremendous identity of its unique title. It causes each beat to be handled in ways that make you think about ten other films that came before it. 

That precisely isn’t a complete deal breaker, as you get some equally funny and pleasant moments with Sara Monpetit’s leading character. But you get the sensation that when it comes to developing the film’s ideas, it comes out rather vague – the movie’s focus inclining toward the aesthetic of a vampire picture rather than its themes. While my desire for a more in-depth conversation about the burden of immortality that vampires face (and its intertwining with a person seeking help in a world that doesn’t want to) might have affected my anticipation for what Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person offered in the grand scheme of things, I still believe that beneath the surface of its indie drama-comedy mold, there’s a more profound and endearing film. 

Grade: C

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