Vampirism has many metaphorical possibilities. In the quirky Quebecois vamp-com “Vampire Humaniste Chereche Suicidaire Consentant” (“Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person”), the bloodsucking undead — more specifically, their eating habits — stand in for troubled teens, developmental delays, sexual coming-of-age, and even vegetarianism. The film opens with a darkly comedic scene of a family presenting a little girl with her birthday present: A party clown, which the girl’s parents have locked inside of a wooden trunk in the living room. Go ahead, they tell her. Eat him. You’re old enough now.
But Sasha (Sarah Montpetit) doesn’t want to kill the clown — which is a problem because, as a vampire, someday she’s going to have to learn how to murder humans for sustenance. Mom (Sophie Caideux) and Dad (Steve Laplante) take Sasha to a vampire pediatrician, who tells them that Sasha has a neurological defect that makes her feel compassion for human suffering rather than salivating over it. Mom resents what she sees as Sasha’s stubbornness. Dad coddles his special little girl, allowing her to suck on blood bags like sanguine Capri Suns rather than go out and feed herself.
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Fast-forward a few decades, and finally the exasperated family has had enough of a now teenage-ish Sasha (she’s 68, but looks 17) and her freeloading ways. They send her to live with her no-nonsense bohemian cousin Denise (Noémie O’Farrell), who attempts to teach this sullen, sensitive girl how to pick up guys at bars and drain them of blood. But Sasha still refuses. Like an ethical carnivore who wants to know the name of the pig they’re about to eat, she needs reassurance that her food died peacefully. The film never delves into why Sasha is okay drinking human blood if someone else procures it for her, but not with killing what she’s about to eat. But the principled stances of human teenagers can be inconsistent as well.
One evening, Sasha is so distraught that she considers ending it all by eating human food, which is poisonous to vampires. But she stops herself just before taking a bite, and wanders into a depression support group instead. There, she encounters Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard), a high school outcast who Sasha spotted standing on the roof of the local bowling alley a few nights before. He thought about dying then, he confesses, and would give his life again if it was for a good cause. Well, how about keeping a bleeding-heart vampire alive?
The greatest coup for first-time feature director Ariane Louis-Seize in “Humanist Vampire” is the casting of her teenage leads. Thin, pale, and drawn in different, complementary ways — she resembles a severe conceptual artist; he a sickly Victorian child — Montpetit and Bénard look just right sitting awkwardly next to one another, their eyes hesitantly lifting from the floor to meet each other’s gaze. Seize returns to this image throughout the film, as Sasha and Paul dance around the big event like the nervous virgins they (metaphorically) are. At only 98 minutes, “Humanist Vampire…” doesn’t hang around long enough to get overly repetitive. But once its central premise has been established, the story that follows is slight.
This means that the world-building promise of the opening segment, which offers a glimpse of an entire parallel vampire society below the surface of our human one, also goes unfulfilled. Seize and cinematographer Shawn Pavlin root the majority of the tale in everyday suburban reality, elevating it to cinematic heights with handsome lensing — one sequence turns the bowling alley into a romantic reverie under purple lights — and loud, disparate musical cues. These contrast with scenes set inside of the vampires’ visually heightened and subtly anachronistic world, where a warm ‘70s color palette and outdated hair and makeup suggest that vampires struggle to keep up with fast-paced human trends.
The tongue-in-cheek combination of humdrum setting and elevated style matches “Humanist Vampire’s” deadpan sense of humor, which is more drolly amusing than laugh-out-loud funny. As Sasha and Paul grow fonder of one another, the tone becomes downright cute at times — which is endearing, if lacking the morbid edge of the first half. With shades of the modern-classic vampire tales “Let the Right One In” and “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person” isn’t a wholly new take on the subgenre. But it is a charming one — a rom-com for teenagers (and teenagers at heart) who swoon when cute boys talk about death.
“Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person” world premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
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