What paints the most vivid picture of Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned is its readiness to take a diverse bunch of themes, actors and filmmaking styles and throw them into the pot to let them stew. The result isn’t the greatest concoction but it is different, challenging and, above all, always interesting.
If you want an idea of the mix of actors then ponder Josephine de la Baume (One Day, Johnny English Reborn), Roxane Mesquida (Gossip Girl, Rubber) and Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes’ Peter Petrelli, Gamer). As for filmmaking styles, well there’s a dash of Hammer horror, some slick 80s music-video posturings, a dinner-party talky bit Woody Allen/John Cassavetes would probably like, a dose of cinema vérite, a touch of Argento and a good few dollops of lightweight 70s porn. Plenty to keep you on your toes.Cassavetes, who writes and directs, has picked a vampire tale but we’re not in Twilight territory here – though there is a love/hate triangle going on. Djuna (de la Baume) is the good vampire. Locked away in a rented Connecticut mansion, she feeds on animals and tries to keep people-munching to a minimum; she doesn’t get out much, anyway. Then screenwriter Paulo (Ventimiglia) arrives. Djuna tries to keep her appetite contained but she can’t resist him. Fortunately, he’s more than happy to become one of the undead, so she bites him and they are united in their fanged happiness.
Sadly, Djuna’s sister Mimi (Mesquida) pays them a visit on her way to vampire rehab. She’s the bad vampire here, though, and let’s just say there’s still one free bed at the drying-out clinic by the end of the movie. Djuna tries to warn everyone that Mimi is on a feeding frenzy but no one listens, until it’s too late.
Cassavetes jostles the shooting styles with a clever knack for knowing when to change her approach, and though the story may follow a conventional arc what keeps it watchable are the changes in camerawork and sound design. For every languid shot of dusk there’s a quick-cut chase sequence. And the soundtrack juxtaposition that has Mimi out clubbing while Djuna and Paulo listen to classical music or jazz at dinner parties really serves the story. Not only does it create a jarring effect that keeps the narrative ‘awake’ but it also helps to underline the difference in character between the sisters. When Paulo mentions that he quite likes some of the music Mimi listens to, you know a blurring of the lines is imminent – and that’s bad news for someone.
Kiss of the Damned has its own unique appeal and is at times stylish, creepy and funny. But there is a but. In this case it’s that some of the acting is hammy and some of the dialogue is almost beyond cliché. In genre moviemaking that isn’t necessarily a bad thing but here the problem is that it is often hard to decide whether the schlocky-ness is deliberate or a mistake. And the fact that this doubt lingers means the overall effect doesn’t quite leave the right taste.