MRR Review: "Kiss of the Damned"

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Beautiful vampire Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) tries to resist the advances of handsome human screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), but eventually gives in to their passion. When her troublemaker sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) unexpectedly comes to visit, Djuna’s love story is threatened, and the whole vampire community becomes endangered...
2.5

MRR Review: "Kiss of the Damned"

-- Rating: R (bloody violence, strong sexual content, nudity, language, some drug use)
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Directed by: Xan Cassavetes
Genre: Horror

When frazzled screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) rents a house in rural Connecticut, he hopes to have some quiet time in order to focus on his work. His life soon changes in such a way that screenwriting is the furthest thing from his mind in "Kiss of the Damned," a lush and beautifully shot vampire flick from Xan Cassavetes.

Paolo is returning some DVDs to a local video store when he meets Djuna (Josephine de la Baume), a pale Frenchwoman as beautiful as she is mysterious. He approaches her and charms her with his banter enough to get Djuna, who lives a semihermitic life watching movies by herself all day, to agree to have dinner with him. After dinner, she invites him back to her sprawling estate, which is stylishly decorated to reflect her taste. She is overcome with feelings for Paolo and tells him to leave, rejecting him forever. He is so smitten that he won't accept her rejection, so he stubbornly keeps asking her out until she finally relents. He is invited back into her home, where Djuna lets him in on a little secret: she is a vampire. By the end of the evening, Paolo is so head-over-heels in love that he convinces her to make him a vampire as well.

The two hole up in the estate, having a honeymoon of sorts, when Djuna's impulsive baby sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) arrives, interrupting their happy life. Djuna wrestles with her conscience when it comes to her vampire nature, because she doesn't want to kill humans for blood. Mimi, who is also a vampire, is completely amoral and doesn't blink at the thought of killing any nearby human to quench her thirst. The two begin fighting on a nightly basis when Mimi begins to take a liking to Paolo and tries to tempt Djuna's master, Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), by offering up a virginal teenage girl as a sacrifice. The sisters clash in a way that only two vampires can, setting the stage for a massive battle of wills that will include plenty of bloodshed.

Dozens of vampire movies were made before "Kiss of the Damned," but few have been quite as stylish as this one. It isn't just the designer look of Djuna's gorgeous house that makes this film so beautiful to watch. It is also the way that director Cassavetes films the scenes, with a great eye for detail that never ignores what is going on around the characters. Cassavetes comes from Hollywood royalty as the daughter of actors Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes, so she grew up in the shadow of the movie industry. She must have paid attention all those years, because this film, her feature directorial debut, is delightful.

The casting of de la Baume as the lead was a real stroke of genius on the part of the casting director. From the opening frames, de la Baume establishes an aura of tortured beauty that allows the audience to understand just what Paolo sees in her. Their courtship may have been short, but it is still made very believable by de la Baume's ability to effortlessly draw people to her as Djuna. It also helps that she has a rather electric chemistry with Ventimiglia, who truly looks like a man who is violently in love. He may not be the focus of the film, and his relationship with Djuna is secondary to the one between Djuna and Mimi, but he definitely makes an impact in a strong supporting role.

Many vampire films center on male characters and how they interact and struggle for power. Cassavetes, who also penned the screenplay for the film, focuses instead on two women and their complicated relationship with each other. The family dynamics of vampires aren't often explored on film, which makes the sisterly bond (or lack thereof) between Djuna and Mimi so exciting and refreshing to watch. As Mimi, Mesquida is the perfect foil to the tortured Djuna and her desire to remain as human as possible, even as she lusts for human blood. They are like female versions of Lestat and Louis from Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire," with Djuna being the repentant Louis and Mimi serving as the spoiled vampire brat Lestat. Cassavetes also seems to have been influenced by the 1970s films of French filmmaker Jean Rollin, who explored the sensual, bloodthirsty side of modern vampires. No matter who influenced Cassavetes more, all fans of the vampire genre can do is hope that enough influence is left to make more films like "Kiss of the Damned."

Rating: 2.5 out of 5