Where do we go when we die?
Living forever isn’t living. It can’t be. Without the threat of death, all you’re doing is going through the motions. Just because Anna (Alanna Bale) understands this more than her centuries-old hunting friends (Benjamin Sutherland‘s Boris and Ella Jonas Farlinger‘s Nina), however, means little if she refuses to actually change. Not that she hasn’t in superficial ways like holding down a job (working sunrise to sunset at a library) while they live off the spoils of their latest, wealthy victim. But that’s more talk than action, especially considering she still meets them to feed each night. Real progress is acknowledging the complexity of her situation to recognize that power and immortality may not trump humanity after all. What’s the point of living if you’ve no reason to fight?
That’s the message that writer/director (and New Pornographers synthesizer player) Blaine Thurier, along with co-writer Leonard Farlinger, have presented their vampire at the center of Kicking Blood. Maybe Anna has found compassion because of her decision to work alongside humans and remember what it was like to struggle for survival or maybe she took the job because she’s always had that compassion—the chicken/egg of it all ultimately proves moot in the face of her willingness to take a step back and realize what it is she’s been missing all these years. While watching someone like Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore) deteriorate before her eyes due to age is enough to plant the seeds for introspection, it’s not until Robbie (Luke Bilyk) follows her home that she decides to act.
He’s an alcoholic on his last legs. No job. No family. No drive. When Anna tells him she’s going to kill him after allowing him a glass of eighty-year-old scotch, Robbie doesn’t laugh. He tilts his head back and says he’s ready. He merely asks for one favor: to take the remainder of that bottle and pour it down the sink in order to dedicate the rest of his life (albeit brief) to sobriety. Rather than a result of her belief in Robbie’s determination, Anna’s decision to subsequently postpone his demise becomes her chance to laugh. Namely at the absurdity of what appears an empty gesture. She might even be hoping to watch him fail if only to reinforce the notion of mankind’s weakness. He chooses withdrawal instead.
A switch is flipped. After decades of watching people who have it all ruin their lives by inviting her and her friends into their homes for hedonistic desires, here is a man willing to endure the pain of his actions to begin the process of healing. Add Bernice’s brave if misguided decision to stop taking her medication so that she can die with clear eyes instead of living with cloudy ones and Anna can’t help but take stock of what she’s allowed herself to become since being turned. Boris and Nina’s games are no longer fun. Potential victims chosen for their bank accounts (since the other two refuse to earn a paycheck) become pitiable rather than deserving. Blood suddenly shifts in her mind from sustenance to pure narcotic.
It’s an interesting genre riff that turns Anna into an addict. Not literally—she’ll die if she doesn’t feed, but figuratively insomuch as an addict’s brain becomes physiologically altered by a substance’s pull. Robbie’s body needs alcohol to function. Bernice’s body needs her prescription pills to function (adding her to the equation is a bit reductive, but I get what Thurier is trying to do by adding another layer of necessity). By witnessing their arduous battles against that need, all the myths fed to her by Boris to ingratiate his sadistic yearnings become hollow. True strength would be not killing people like cattle. True strength would be battling the craving no matter the consequence. Maybe it will kill her like Bernice. Maybe it will heal her like Robbie.
Either way, Anna will be “saved.” She’ll have lived or died by her own will, blocking out the external noise begging her to simply let go and enjoy herself (like Bernice’s doctors and Robbie’s ex, Vinessa Antoine‘s Vanessa). The wrinkle in her situation, however, is that doing so will still place others at risk. Why? Because Boris and Nina won’t stop killing. Anna’s refusal to join their bacchanals won’t be saving lives as much as working to save her soul. And the longer she goes without, the more desperate Boris and Nina will become to set her straight considering her so-called “addiction” is all that’s keeping her alive. That turns Robbie into a target and Anna’s waning physical strength means she won’t be able to protect him.
The result is a dialogue-heavy independent film that uses its high concept hook as its entrance rather than purpose. It looks good despite its paltry budget and possesses solid acting too. What it doesn’t have is action and that might disappoint those expecting blood and gore from their horror fare rather than metaphor and commentary. Credit Alanna Bale for providing the sort of performance that would suit the former even as she embraces the latter to reclaim her character’s humanity in the face of oblivion. We know to fear Anna’s ambivalence and control while also learning to appreciate her capacity for empathy despite living so long without needing it. Because conquering addiction isn’t about victory. It’s about self-awareness. The struggle is never-ending, but the reward is without compare.
courtesy of XYZ Films Releasing