Story-wise, Kiss of the Damned is a pretty straight vampire film. Artsy script writer Paolo meets a beautiful young woman, Djuna, who turns out to be a vampire. He encourages her to turn him, too; and they could live happily ever after if it was not for Djuna’s sister Mimi, who creates trouble.
If this sounds slightly generic, it must be said that the story feels a bit clinical, a bit by-the-numbers. This starts with the will-she-won’t-she sequence of scenes in which Djuna at first refuses to turn Paolo. And the weird eroticism that apparently no vampire film these days can be without. Then the constrained exposition scene – almost painful to listen to – in which Djuna tells Paolo all about vampires: the ins and outs, the dos and the don’ts, the powers, the vulnerabilities…. This almost seems like a fully formed check-list and is clearly meant for the viewer and not so much for Paolo.
Maybe I am judging too harshly; maybe everything seems “old” and generic to me because I have seen too many vampire films; and it is difficult enough to find something original in a cliché-riddled genre. But original films do exist, like Let the Right One In. And the problem with Kiss of the Damned is not so much its lack of originality, but rather the fact that 70 minutes in you are still left wondering what this film is trying to tell you.
There is undoubtedly a message (or theme) in this film. It is revolving around the topic of civilisation and the question how thin the veneer of civilisation is and how much we may or may not lie to ourselves by denying that our more basic impulses exist. And on the other hand there is the question whether the fact that these basic impulses do exist and that civilisation is a veneer should serve as a justification for an individual to act selfishly and hedonistically.
But this theme only slowly emerges in a clear manner after 70 minutes; and you cannot help but wonder if that is not a case of “too little, too late”, for a 90+ minute drama. It seems to me that the rather thin and allusive way these topics were touched on might have been more appropriate for a 30 or 40 minute short film.
That being said, the film certainly leaves you with something to think about. And it is nice to see writer/director Xan Cassavetes trying to use the genre for more than just horror or romance but for more important issues, and the film should certainly be commended for that.
The sole bright spot plot-wise is Djuna’s “disturbed” sister Mimi. Although the troubles and tribulations she causes are not new and are for the most part rather foreseeable, she is even more devious and scheming than you would ordinarily expect.
Near the very end of the film, after all the generic story and after all of Mimi’s scheming, there is a dramatic turn of events which has nothing to do with either. It is tentatively linked to the civilisation theme of the film, but the way this turn of events comes about is coincidental, and that makes it seem weak.
The cast is solid. Milo Ventimiglia is a good choice for Paolo, and the other main characters are also cast well. The many French women in this film who speak with accents can make following the dialogue a bit difficult at times if English is not your first language, but fortunately my DVD had optional English subtitles. The acting is good throughout.
Some of the soundtrack choices are interesting. And there are some beautiful still landscape shots, but I was less impressed with the shaky-cam approach the cinematographer chose whenever Paolo and Djuna were hunting deer. I guess it was simply a cop-out in order to avoid having to invest in practical effects.
There are some minor problems with the editing. One or two scenes seem to me as if they had been originally intended for a slightly later point in the film. Either that, or the writing and directing made Paolo seem to react arbitrarily in those scenes.
This film is not a waste of time, but in spite of its attempt at raising philosophical questions it is far from being engrossing. It simply exists. You are witnessing what is happening but are never engaged in the story. There are things that are thought-provoking, but since they emerge late in the film they come to you only after you have finished watching it; which is why the film itself seems to drag on for the most part. Basically the first 70 minutes of this film lack some “pzazz”, and no amount of nudity can hide that fact.
As I said, not a bad film at all, but not up there with the best of the genre. I would give this one 6.0 to 6.5 out of 10. Imdb’s current rating of 5.6 is a tad too low.
I hesitate to recommend that you watch this film – because of the film’s shortcomings and the fact that, for the most part, one simply does not really feel entertained.