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TIFF 2021 Review: See the Human Side of Vampires in Blaine Thurier’s ‘Kicking Blood’

TIFF 2021 Review: See the Human Side of Vampires in Blaine Thurier’s ‘Kicking Blood’

Kicking Blood isn’t the typical vampire story. Written and directed by Blaine Thurier (Low Self-Esteem Girl) and co-written by Leonard Farlinger (I’m Yours), this fantasy-dark comedy hybrid takes a look at the modern-day vampire. What does she want? Blood and sex, right? Well, not exactly.

The film stars Alanna Bale (Cardinal) as Anna, Luke Bilyk (Lost Girl) as Robbie, Ella Jonas Farlinger (Anne with an E) as Nina, Benjamin Sutherland (Y: The Last Man) as Boris, Vinessa Antoine (Diggstown) as Vanessa, and Rosemary Dunsmore (Orphan Black) as Bernice. It’s produced by Jennifer Jonas (Leslie, My Name Is Evil) and New Real Films.

Anna is a vampire who chooses to work and interact with humans. She’s not really seeking companionship, but she does care about her friend Bernice, an older woman who works at the library with her. When Anna meets Robbie, a homeless alcoholic on the verge of suicide, she brings him home to feed on. Already feeling hopeless and alone, death doesn’t sound too bad to Robbie. She’s intrigued that he’s not afraid to die and lets him live. He decides to stop drinking and stays with her as he goes through withdrawal. Anna helps him in his recovery — which Robbie will later also do for her.

Anna hunts with Nina and Boris, two vamps who appear to enjoy the luxuries of eternal life. Unlike her fellow vampires, she’s curious about human feelings and their personal views on death. After seeing Bernice dying of cancer, Anna wants to choose life and kick her addiction to blood, much to the disapproval of her friends. She goes through withdrawal like Robbie, but she holds out hope that it’s possible for her to be human again.  

Thurier has an interesting take on vampires. His bloodsuckers are more relaxed and less vicious than the vamps we’re used to seeing on screen. They’re not overly sexual, cruel, or morose. Drinking blood is just what they do, and it’s less of a hunger out of necessity but rather a drug. They have some fun luring humans into their trap, and then chase the euphoric high.

For Anna, this eternal life is boring. She’s witty and seems to enjoy playing with her food, but there’s a visible tiredness she carries with her. Like any regular person who is unhappy or just bored, she’s going through the motions, taking advantage of moments that are mildly interesting, like an attractive drunk guy sitting by a dumpster asking her about the afterlife.

The dark comedic elements come from the exchanges between Anna and Robbie. After she brings him home, Anna bluntly admits, “I’m a vampire.” Without missing a beat, Robbie says, “I kinda figured.” She goes on to say that she’s going to kill him and drink his blood. He’s mostly unbothered by it. His nonchalance is funny, but also sad. It’s implied that Anna and Robbie fall in love, but their connection is more about finding support while going through recovery. It doesn’t feel romantic, yet this bond is still meaningful.

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The film is set in the wintery Sudbury, Ontario, giving it a Let the Right One In vibe. Production actually benefited from filming during quarantine last year. The streets of Sudbury were empty, adding to the themes of loneliness and isolation.

Director of photography Jonathon Cliff (Death of a Ladies’ Man) mostly uses red and blue lighting throughout the film, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. Darkness engulfs almost every setting, making the characters appear disembodied and floating, almost showing them in spotlights. It’s hard to see in Anna’s home. She only uses lamps — no overhead lights. We get glimpses of a massive bookshelf, floral murals, and a blood red couch. 

Blaine Thurier is the former keyboardist of Vancouver’s indie rock band the New Pornographers, so it’s no surprise that the music is fantastic. The film is composed by Ohad Benchetrit (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Justin Small (Cursed Films), two members of the Toronto-based band Do Make Say Think. The composers maintain an ominous tone using a variety of music styles — alternative/indie rock, synth pop, and classical. At times the music sounds like dueling pianos playing in an unsettling horror-like fury. Other times it’s more gothic and reminiscent of classic horror films. There’s a consistent eeriness in the sound design. One of the best effects is hearing Anna’s skin sizzle as she steps into the sun. Only hearing it makes the vampiric aversion to sunlight feel real, something rarely accomplished with CGI.

Kicking Blood explores what it means to be human, but mostly, what it means to live. Vampirism serves as a metaphor for addiction, which is something we’ve seen before in films like Only Lovers Left Alive and The Addiction. However, it’s the juxtaposition of Anna’s vampiric addiction to blood and Robbie’s human addiction to alcohol that makes this film unique.

Kicking Blood premiered this week at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:

The Guilty

Mothering Sunday

Hold Your Fire

Attica

To Kill The Beast

A Banquet

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