A couple of days ago, I accidentally knocked over a pile of DVDs (as you do, when your DVD collection is extremely disorganised), and out of the ensuing avalanche the Bloody Mallory DVD jumped at me. I took this as a sign to re-watch this film which I hadn’t seen in over a decade. And as the 15th anniversary of the film’s release approaches, let’s just pretend that I never told you about the DVD-pile incident and that I am writing this review in anticipation of the anniversary in a nicely scheduled piece as an example of decent, organised preplanning.
Luckily, I had forgotten all about the plot, so was able to enjoy the film as if it was a new one.
This French cult hit barely qualifies as a vampire film. One of the main antagonists is a vampire, but being a vampire plays nearly no part in that character’s function for the film. I. e.: they could easily have used any other random type of demon in the script. In fact, the vampire’s main collaborator is referred to as a succubus.
The main foot soldiers of evil in this story are ghouls who act on behalf of the other two.
Years ago, the film’s heroin, Mallory, unknowingly married a demon – a fact that created an eternal, inseparable bond between her and the demon world. Her husband tried to sacrifice her on their wedding night, but she managed to kill him instead. Since then, she has become a demon hunter, travelling through France in a pink hearse.
She is a bit of a rogue element, leading a tiny band of misfits (namely the ass-kicking drag-queen Vena Cava and the mute telepath Talking Tina). But she is also working with or for a secret government agency, so the three renegades are joined by a liaison officer by the name of Durand (Thierry Perkins-Lyautey).
While this government agency and Mallory’s team are trying to keep the world save from demons, the Vatican does not believe in demons. Instead, they are busy fighting the “real” evils like homosexuality and contraception. In fact, we are told that the new pope, Hieronymous I, is looking into ways of disbanding Mallory’s team.
With this constellation, you have a pretty standard approach when it comes to demon hunting teams: a band of misfits, outsiders in mainstream society, protecting that very society from an evil it knows nothing about, while being barely tolerated by the authorities, etc., etc.
If the misfits-angle is not really new, the film at least tries its hand at a fresh look. It does so by tapping into a vast number of styles. For example, the heroine seems to be modelled after computer-game characters such as Lara Croft or Jill Valentine. In general, there are a lot of elements in the film that are reminiscent of computer games of the day, and Bloody Mallory falls into the same era of filmmaking that brought us the first Tomb Raider and Resident Evil films. With some brighter colours and some burlesque elements, you could also liken the aesthetics of the film in general (and especially of the team) to Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, or to comic book films like Barb Wire or Tank Girl.
At times the result of all this stylistic mishmash looks less like a coherent vision and more like a colourful assortment of jelly-beans, but as I said: at least the look is somewhat fresh.
Apart from that, we have the usual Gothic settings, like a medieval church, a country village with secret underground crypts and labyrinths, or a petrol station that seems to come straight out of a redneck horror story.
The sets look good and the general aesthetics mostly work, and while some of the computer-generated elements have not aged well and look like something from a bad cable-television show, some of the CGI are decent. On the practical side, the monster make-up is very effective and really rather well-done. Only the make-up used to age Laurent Spielvogel (as the Pope) is a bit off (but not worse than in many other films).
So while I am content with the looks of the film, and also with the premise, there are a number of problems with the story and the tone.
Tonally, this film is meant to be a comedic horror-action film, but the humour is not very well developed. A few quip-ish lines here and there are not enough, and that goes especially for the character of Vena Cava (played by Jeffrey Ribier). Somehow the writers (Stéphane Kazandjian and Julien Magnat) seem to have laboured under the wrong impression that anything said by a drag queen is inherently funny simply because it is said by a drag queen, independent of the actual content.
The fact that the humour often stays flat is somehow compounded by the fact that some of the actors do not know what tone the film is aiming for and are hamming it up, like Valentina Vargas for example. Her style might be amusing, but is not fitting for the film. The blame, in this case, lies of course entirely with director Julien Magnat.
The problems with the story mainly stem from the fact that all of the characters remain pretty two-dimensional. The plot itself is meant to be a canvas on which we are meant to witness some character development, but the only character that is going through a little bit of a development in the script is Mallory herself, and that development is not really set up very well and has little effect on the viewer (or on Mallory herself, for that matter).
Because of the lack of any character development, and because we learn so little about the supporting characters, the whole film feels like a pilot for a TV show, like a story that is simply setting up the characters in preparation of more stories to come.
The acting is very mixed. I liked the acting of the lead, Olivia Bonamy, a lot. And there is little wrong with many of the supporting cast, Vargas’s over-acting aside. But Adrià Collado seems pretty much at a loss as far as his character is concerned. There is also sub-par acting from María Jurado in her brief appearance as a nurse “possessed” by Talking Tina and in the performance of Spielvogel in some but not all of his scenes. Again, in these cases, there seems to be a distinct inability of the director to keep the performances fitting for the film’s tone.
To be fair, this was Magnat’s feature film debut both as a writer and as a director, so a lack of experience might count as an excuse for a lot of the shortcomings.
With all its strengths and weaknesses, I believe that Bloody Mallory is worth a look if you don’t expect too much. I guess 6 out of 10 might be a fair rating, even if one of those six stars would purely be for effort.
PS: There is a (sub-divided) mid-credit-scene, for those that are interested in this kind of thing.
Excursus: I briefly mentioned that Talking Tina is able to take possession of bodies. This is a side issue, but may be interesting for future film makers: we have here a child character, played – naturally – by a child actor (Thylda Barès). But that child actor basically appears in only three scenes. In all other scenes she is possessing the mind of an animal or an adult. That way, you can have a child character in your film (if, for example, your group dynamic calls for one), but at the same time circumvent many of the limitations you face with a child actor, such as working hour restrictions, etc. Of course, you are then faced with a lot of voice-over work and need to make sure you cast a child actor who is able to pull off the voice-overs, etc.