Writer-director Xan Cassavetes pays homage to the libidinous vampire B movies of the 1970s with Kiss of the Damned, a slightly duller retread of its precursors.
The vampire Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) lives in an isolated house, whiling away hours translating poetry, watching classic films and hunting animals in the nearby woods.
Something of a humanist, she has forsaken the blood of people in favor of “politically correct plasma.”
At least until she meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), a non-bloodsucker with whom she has instant chemistry.
Knowing she can’t restrain herself from biting him, Djuna attempts to stop Paolo from getting involved with her — although any warning that includes writhing around barely clothed and chained to the bedposts seems a little half-hearted.
Who could blame her, though?
She hasn’t had a boyfriend in 60 years, and finding a guy who’s willing to live forever isn’t easy.
Soon the two beautiful, perpetually youthful vampires have settled into a routine that turns out to be rather mundane, except that they sleep during the day and feed on animals at night.
In fact, for a couple whose relationship began with bondage, the two carry on a fairly boring existence.
The story is in desperate need of drama when Djuna’s troublemaker sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), shows up as a houseguest on her way to rehab.
Where Djuna targets animals, makes Victorian-era sartorial choices and keeps a low profile, Mimi wears barely there leather dresses and attacks men in city alleys, ripping chunks of flesh from drunk partyers like the “disturbed creature” Djuna paints her to be.
Mimi seems like just the thing to inject Kiss of the Damned with the sex and blood that the genre’s fans would enjoy. So why does everything still feel so humdrum?
For one, the movie spends long stretches with fancy vampires who call one another “dahling” and have existential conversations.
Most of these creatures are refined and cerebral, and they would rather debate the merits of synthetic blood at a cocktail party than embark on a riveting hunt. There are moments that come across as tongue-in-cheek — an amuse bouche of hemoglobin, anyone? — but the cast’s delivery of lines from a somewhat middling script seems off, and the whole thing starts to feel painfully self-serious.
As a director, Cassavetes (the daughter of film legend John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands) has talent. Her shots are moody, her quick cutting perfectly captures a feeding frenzy and she channels an ominous atmosphere.
But there’s more to a movie than look and feel.
The story lacks tension, and the suspense never builds. What’s left is pretty anemic, which, for a vampire movie, is never good.
Two stars. R. Contains nudity, sex, language, drug use and bloody violence. 97 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars okay, one star poor, no stars waste of time.
Stephanie Merry writes for The Washington Post