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TIFF 2021 Review: The Vampire Tale 'Kicking Blood' Offers Fresh Life to Old Addiction Metaphors

By Jason Adams | Film | September 16, 2021 |

By Jason Adams | Film | September 16, 2021 |


Vampire stories have been standing in for addiction myths since their earliest beginnings. But what to do when everybody’s an addict? When every regular Joe and Jane on the street is in recovery for something or other, and our supernatural mythologizing loses some of its super? I guess it’s time to kick the habit, and that’s just where writer-director Blaine Thurier’s smart but a little slight Kicking Blood kicks in. Vamp Anna (Alanna Bale) has been doing this for a very very long time, and all the exoticism’s been leeched from the lifestyle. Straightedge is the new cutting edge—Anna’s ready to get high on life!

It starts with a library, as most good stories do. Anna, trying to find new ways to fill up the endless stretch of afterlife hours with something beside bloodsucking and posturing like an extra from The Hunger, has started working at a local branch, shuffling between the silent book-stacks and contemplating the silence. This gig also brings her into contact with the living and breathing humans that work there, though, which inevitably—as anyone with a shitty pays-the-rent job will recognize—fosters a small sense of commiseration. Of common ground. Maybe humans are more than just blood smoothies after all?

Well … OK, some of them are still just blood smoothies. One creepy leering co-worker has clearly got to go, and after a good chuckle at his fruitless seduction, Anna steals off with his top-shelf scotch and tears his throat out, not in that exact order. But alternately, Anna does find herself becoming especially friendly with another co-worker, an older woman named Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore), who’s finding her days more swamped with medications than seeming reasons to keep going. Something about her sweetness offsets Anna’s more bitter flavor. There’s a there there.

And then Anna meets Robbie (Luke Bilyk). Also at the end of his own little rope, Robbie’s alcoholism has drowned out his every exit. He’s entirely ready to shuffle off the coil when he stumbles into Anna’s path, and so once she lures him into her dark lair—which gives off strong shades of Scarlett Johansson’s unsettling home-space in Under the Skin—and he figures out his fate, well, Robbie can’t push his throat into her fangs fast enough. Just let him dump out that dead guy’s scotch as one final symbolic gesture…

That gesture stirs something inside of Anna, and before you can say “Tilda Swinton’s wolfen-haired wig in Only Lovers Left Alive” (admittedly saying that takes a minute), Anna is both shaken and stirred. From there she and Robbie keep on surprising each other, and something less like a romance and more like a mutually-agreed-upon exhaustion sets in. A shared sense of hopelessness that bonds them and becomes, in increments, its opposite. Thurier, along with his co-writer Leonard Farlinger, script these two’s recovering heartbeats subtly enough that the film never drowns in metaphor like some of these addiction myths do. The title Kicking Blood might be a little obvious, but the film is thankfully inclined toward more delicacy. Finding one’s way back to humanity doesn’t have to be a hammer.

Neither Robbie nor Anna’s friends are helpful—a breaking-bad impulse, toward booze and blood, respectively, will be a hard-fought battle. Especially when you take into account the superhuman vampire abilities of some of the people they’re messing with. And Anna’s library friend Bernice offers another wrongheaded path when she decides to will herself off her own medication, which is what’s keeping her sane and standing. Wrong turns spurt up from every angle, decent or no, and everything doesn’t age like scotch—some things curdle. Kicking Blood isn’t especially scary, but it’s thoughtful and sleek, beautifully photographed, and it offers some food for thought on the long haul of living. I say give it a taste and you might just like it.

Kicking Blood was screened at the 2021 TIFF film festival.

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