Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1
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(Nov 02, 2009)
Vegetarian. Valedictorian. Vampire.
Twin sisters Lara (Eilis Cahill) and Helen (Devon Dionne) Baxter couldn't be more different. Lara is a black-haired goth who has a shrine to Anne Rice in her candle-lit room and enjoys solitary walks in the cemetery while blonde Helen is a vegetarian cheerleader who has all the local letter-jacketed testeronies buzzing around her and mocks her sister's overuse of eyeliner. Their brother Raymond (Michael Strelow) is a closet case medical student who still lives at home and collects rubber bands. Rounding out the happy family is Mom (Jo Jo Hristova), an ex-professional skater from a foreign suppressed land close enough to Transylvania to make her immediately suspicious.
The twins' feud reaches a boiling point when Helen makes the moves on Lara's secret crush, prompting the dark sister to cast a voodoo curse on Helen involving a cut up Barbie, some hair strands, and a few cage-free eggs whipped gently with teenage hate and crested with a nice firm cow's heart. The next morning, Helen wakes up with a severe nosebleed, and although a doctor assures the family that it's nothing to worry about, it doesn't take long before the poor girl is dead and Lara is overcome with guilt.
Grieving from their loss, Helen's family members each reach for their own brand of comfort. Mrs. Baxter seeks solace in the arms of the church, Lara becomes more subdued in her rituals, and Raymond sets to work breaking down the oddities in his sister's blood (which he collected during her nosebleed.) There he discovers a virus - one that feeds on red blood cells is sensitive to ultra-violet light. Suddenly there is a knock at the door.
Helen, covered in blood, is standing outside still draped in her body bag. Fortunately for Mom's heart (but unfortunately for Helen's mortician), it's not her blood: apparently, she is now a full-fledged vampire, and she was just a little hungry when she awoke on her slab. The family quickly realizes that they will need to find a steady supply of "sacrifices" to cope with their newfound dilemma, but the problem here is that Helen is still a vegan, and besides... killing innocent people doesn't gel with the family's religious beliefs. So begins a bizarre mixture of horror, dark comedy, and family drama as the Baxters attempt to keep their family together.
Compiled from reviews by Emily Blunt, Sarah Jahier, Chad Connelly, Kimberly Swan, and The Video Vixen
Official Website: www.bloodjunky.com
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It has its faults, as all films do. There's a bizarre Mayan temple start and creepy (but not in the good way) double-intro voice over situation. Then we shoot over to the cool part of the story.
Story goes...a young Goth chic, Lara Baxter (Eilis Cahill), complete with the cheerleader twin sister, Helen (Devon Bailey), live in a tourist shanty on the eastern shores of the United States.
Lara is into black and red and hangs at the local Wicken filled Freakatorium Shoppe of Curiosities. Her sister, a bubble of sunshine, has the local letter-jacketed testosteronies buzzing around her and a Pollyanna look at life.
Mom (Jo Jo Hristova) is an ex-professional skater from a foreign suppressed land close enough to Transylvania to make her immediately suspicious. And brother, Raymond (Michael Strelow) is an uber eccentric scientific loose canon channeling Crispin Glover; but with originality and less spoofing.
The family is very dysfunctional. But when Goth chic tries to give Cheerleader chic acne via some voodoo curse, perhaps Lara was a tad a heavy handed on the toad spit. Because viola! Helen becomes a vampire.
But the seemingly McHateful Clan suddenly really pull together - and pull apart others - to keep their family together. Here TTW:VD becomes unique; women leads, a cool story line, and real emotional relationships.
Underneath all this we are hinted to that there may be more to Helen's transformation than sis' ill-thought voodoo curse juvenilely involving a cut up Barbie, some hair strands, and a few cage-free eggs whipped gently with teenage hate and crested with a nice firm cow's heart.
The family believe (for now) that the spell is what has turned little Ms. DoRight into a creature of the night.
I am ignoring many of the faux pas of the Mayan jolts, and odd back-story of the dad who is instantly out of the film via divorce. Because the cast left behind are wonderful.
First of all, it starts like a quirky family drama, introducing us to the very different characters. While Lara acts as a kind of narrator and main character for the film, equal screen time is given to all of the characters within the Baxter family. Both Lara and Helen are well-developed, but surprisingly time is also taken to develop the characters of the mother and brother. All of the characters' personalities and interactions with each other really bring the film to life and make you care about what happens to them. What horror-lover wouldn't adore the character of Lara, with her Anne Rice shrine, cool, candle-lit room and obsession with death? Or the quirky character of Ray, whose room looks like a sterile, white-washed doctor's office? In fact, the first 30 minutes or so when we are learning about all the characters and exploring their environment really feels like more of a Wes Anderson movie (along the lines of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS) than anything else. I even enjoyed the campy New Orleans vampire that comes a'knocking later in the film, looking as if he was directly lifted from an Anne Rice novel! Though he felt a bit out of place, I'm betting future films in the series explain his character and introduce other vampire characters as well. All of these characters show that writer/director Phil Messerer really knows how to develop and connect his characters with the audience without sacrificing the pacing of the film.
Speaking of pacing, the film glides along at a near-perfect speed, something that is quite rare for an indie flick. We relate to the characters because of the development invested in them and after that connection you just can't take your eyes off the screen. The writing, by Messerer, feels natural and has more heart and soul than most horror films. He really takes the time to not just make it another ho-hum horror film, but to invest some real emotion into the plot. So, along with the horror aspect of it, there are also moments of drama and comedy. I also enjoyed how Messerer beefed up the mythology of the film by interweaving the story of the first vampire, Oya, into the plot. This new mythology (and the beautiful accompanying paintings, by artist Rostislav Spitkovsky) really adds more depth to the film and takes a new approach as to where vampires come from and how they are created.
Besides the excellent writing, the acting is also stellar! Devon Bailey as Helen goes from a sweet sugar-and-spice 16-year-old to an uncontrollable and ferocious vampire - and we believe every second! She makes us feel both sympathetic and disgusted by her character, who covers the walls of the basement with the blood of her victims. Her character also requires a lot physically from Bailey, but nonetheless she delivers a stunning, provocative performance. Eilis Cahill as Lara is also excellent. Her character pretends to be sarcastic and cynical, but underneath it all she still loves her sister and would do anything for her. Cahill does an amazing job of letting her vulnerability peek out from beneath her hard exterior and is really a joy to watch in her role. Michael Strelow brings Raymond to life and really makes it scary watching his transformation from quiet and mild-mannered to an accomplice who brings men home for his sister to kill and later hacks up the bodies to get rid of them. Finally, Jo Jo Hristova as the mother really brings all of the characters together and makes it feel like a real family. Plus, her conflict over her religion and her love for her daughter really makes for some great drama.
THICKER THAN WATER also features some impressive special FX. The basement lair of Helen is coated in bright, sticky blood that drips from the walls. Helen's special FX makeup is also impressive - she cries blood tears and is a pale, almost luminescent white after turning into a vampire. When she doesn't feed her skin takes on a mottled, bruised and rotted appearance. The special FX were done by Randall Leddy and they are amazing, especially considering the low budget. Throats get torn out, a guy's face gets cut off and there is blood constantly coating the walls of the Baxter home and pouring out of people's necks! Kudos to Leddy and anyone else involved with the makeup and special FX because they look very realistic and professional.
As if I haven't rambled on enough about praise for this film, the direction by Phil Messerer is also very professionally done. There are some great shots in the film, including one where a strange visitor to the Baxter home is shown silhouetted against some nighttime fog and another where Lara is traipsing through the snow-covered cemetery. Beautiful shots like this as well as the solid direction just add more allure to the film. It's hard to believe that the film is Messerer's first!
Truly my only real complaint with the film was the overuse of the background piano music. I feel that some scenes would have benefited more had they been shown in silence. It seemed that the piano music was playing constantly in the background and after a while this started to overpower everything (even though it was beautifully played). On the upside, the other music, ranging from rock music to slow ballads, used on the soundtrack was impressive and used more judiciously.
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES PART 1: THICKER THAN WATER is a very impressive first volume in what I hope turns into a trilogy of vampire films. The well-rounded storyline, drawing elements from horror, family drama and comedy, the quirky characters and the awesome special FX really make this film something very special. Phil Messerer has created a unique vampire film, one that avoids the usual genre conventions of just using "boobs and blood," and it has turned out to be one of the most memorable independent films I've ever seen. I can't wait for the next volume!