Horror

[TIFF Review] Vampire Drama ‘Kicking Blood’ Heavier on Style Than Bite

Save for sunlight or perhaps a stake to the heart, vampires live forever. Instead of just one lifetime, they can experience many. That means that a regular staple in vampire fiction depicts the erosion of time, where pleasure and discovery eventually wane and boredom sets in. Kicking Blood adds to the existential conversation, featuring a world-wearied bloodsucker grappling with morality and mortality. While it brings every bit of style befitting of eternal life, it lacks a poignant bite.

Anna (Alanna Bale) is tired. Anna’s tired of losing people she likes as much as she’s tired of the people she drains. She still loves the high that comes from drinking blood, though. A chance encounter with a suicidal alcoholic, Robbie (Luke Bilyk), and her ill friend Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore) meeting death on her own terms has Anna questioning the more predatory nature of her longtime hunting companions. It has her questioning her very existence.

Director Blaine Thurier, who co-wrote the script with Leonard Farlinger, infuses Anna’s tale with a gothic bohemian style. Vibrant blue and red lighting pulse throughout, evocative of blood pumping through veins and arteries. Anna is one stylish vampire, right down to her taste in music and living quarters. Even the almost psychedelic ecstasy that captures just how stoned vampires get when they feed oozes cool. It’s a gorgeously moody feature, with Thurier capturing the ethereal but blasé temperament of eternal life through visuals.

That’s both its strength and its weakness. Kicking Blood is effortlessly cool, but it’s also a bit hollow. As well-produced as it is, it favors telling over showing. Anna’s bond with Bernice holds more weight than the central budding relationship between Anna and Robbie. There’s no gradual build or nuance to their actions or choices. We’re just meant to roll with the almost impulsive but life-changing decisions they make simply by being in each other’s orbit.

Bale is so effective at portraying Anna’s stone-cold weariness that she’s almost entirely a closed book. She wanders into a grocery store and squeezes the life out of a strawberry, an existential moment of contemplation that doesn’t hit as hard thanks to Anna’s unmovable stoic mask. Thurier favors these mood-building moments over storytelling or fleshing out his characters, which would engender more rooting interest and engagement. We never really get to know anyone at all. How did Robbie get to this point? Why did meeting Anna become the catalyst for repairing his life? None of that matters, and despite Bilyk’s affability, Robbie ultimately doesn’t feel like a character but a supporting plot device. A late-game character gets dropped into the fray with all the signs that she’s significant. We’re again left to accept her wholesale based on the indicated history with Robbie and nothing else.

Aesthetically, Kicking Blood is lovely to look at and pulls you in with its style. Narratively it leaves you as cold as the snowy setting. The addiction to blood concept and vampires who revel in getting high from it makes for an interesting idea, but it’s only superficially explored. It’s only Bernice’s character that can manage to pull out some semblance of humanity in Anna, and that’s peripheral. We never really care about the core relationship it wants us to, which is meant to act as the driving force of the entire plot. It’s a breathtaking but somewhat empty waltz through vampirism.

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