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Kiss of the Damned

2012 | 95 min | R | 2.39:1

Kiss of the Damned


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Theatrical release date

 03 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Kiss of the Damned Blu-ray

Kiss of the Damned Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 2, 2013

Vampire movies have had it rough lately, what with the “Twilight” saga managing to regress fearsome, sensual creatures into dour Teen Beat centerfolds, complete with shimmering skin. “Kiss of the Damned” isn’t a rebuttal to the world of Edward Cullen, but it does a fine job reminding audiences that bloodsuckers are far more amorous and reprehensible than popular culture suggests. Stylish and seductive, “Kiss of the Damned” is more of a macabre snapshot than a cohesive picture, capturing a specific throb of sexuality that helps to ignore frustratingly slack storytelling from writer/director Xan Cassavetes, daughter of famed filmmaker John Cassavetes.

A vampire who spends her days holed up inside a mansion provided by her master, Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) is a poetry translator fearful of the outside world, looking to avoid humans as a food source and as potential objects of affection. When screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) comes into town to work on his latest project, he finds himself immediately attracted to Djuna, who barely makes an effort to keep the stranger away. Falling into lust, Paolo urges his undead lover to bite him into immortality, an act Djuna carries out reluctantly. As the pair builds a comfortable domestic routine avoiding human blood, Djuna’s reckless sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) arrives for a weeklong visit, disrupting the couple’s sexual tension. Carelessly feasting on human prey around Djuna and Paolo, while tempting Xenia with a virginal teenage (Riley Keough) offering, Mimi aims for destruction, soon turning her attention to Paolo to drive her sister insane.

At first glance, it almost appears as though footage is missing from the opening of “Kiss of the Damned.” Establishing Djuna’s seclusion away from humans due to the temptation of flesh, Cassavetes quickly introduces Paolo as spoiler in the vampire’s tortured but relatively uncomplicated life. They’re immediately attracted to each other, barely sharing names before Djuna’s chained to a bed to show her lover her true fanged form -- a transformation that’s Viagra to the screenwriter, looking to join the undead despite Djuna’s repeated warnings. There’s no feel for this pivotal relationship, no pause to understand why the pair would take a single leap from video store flirtation to an eternal marriage of damnation. However, Cassavetes seems to believe a rousing quake of sexuality is enough to sell the twosome as the real deal, using the heat generated between the duo as a way of communicating instant devotion. While the leads are beautiful people, the disjointed introduction to “Kiss of the Damned” disturbs the feature’s concentration, feeling more like an extended trailer for Cassavetes’s original cut.

Matters improve once the picture slips into its ghoulish atmosphere like a silk robe, concentrating on the antagonistic relationship between Mimi and Djuna, two sisters who’ve been around for centuries, acutely aware of each other’s weaknesses and habits. The interplay is nicely barbed, highlighting a distinct contrast between Djuna, the rational, patient vampire, and her monster of the sister, who feeds indiscriminately on nearby humans. “Kiss of the Damned” is most convincing observing this uncomfortable dynamic, overcoming the lack of plot with a sharp sibling discomfort that’s tested once again around Paolo and his insatiable curiosity about the vampire lifestyle and the bedroom antics of the sisters.

“Kiss of the Damned” is a profoundly sexual feature, offering characters carrying a weaponized sense of seduction to trap victims. There’s plenty of physical contact in the picture to fog up the screen, yet Cassavetes doesn’t thrust matters into a late night Cinemax offering, retaining elegance with the details of the vampire lifestyle, where the elite sip shots of premium blood and throw dinner parties where guests share philosophy and debate behavior. Also worth noting is cinematography by Tobias Datum, which takes a low-budget effort and makes it ripple with mood, carefully itemizing gruesome acts of blood consumption without wallowing in the sticky details. “Kiss of the Damned” is gory, but also undeniably beautiful to watch, offering a propulsive soundtrack to support the slinky visuals.

“Kiss of the Damned” ultimately settles on style over substance, but the results are intriguing enough to work, aided by pronounced sexual encounters that feel alien in today’s submissive marketplace. It’s an empty picture that’s agreeably decorated, yet it feels like a fresh take on vampire mythology, turning customary monsters into a cultured yet desperate community out to preserve the illusion of humanity, only to find their base desires exposing their true nature.

Starring: Milo Ventimiglia, Anna Mouglalis, Roxane Mesquida, Michael Rapaport, Riley Keough
Director: Xan Cassavetes

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