Title: Kiss of the Damned
Screened At: SXSW 2013
Directed By: Xan Cassavetes
Starring: Joséphine de La Baume, Milo Ventimiglia, Roxane Mesquida, Michael Rapaport, Anna Mouglalis
Heavy on the sex and seduction, light on the character and plot development, “Kiss of the Damned” offers up curious characters and an intriguing world, but leaves it at that, making the experience entirely one-dimensional.
In an effort to help him finish up his latest script, Paolo’s (Milo Ventimiglia) agent sends him out of the city to a quieter location. While there, Paolo finds distraction in the form of Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume), a beautiful woman who happens to be a vampire. Even after being warned of her monstrous nature, Paolo is still completely in love and the pair vows to spend their lives together. However, that’s when Djuna’s sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), steps into the picture and she’s eager to tear their romance and the entire vampire community to shreds.
“Kiss of the Damned” kicks off like “Twilight” for adults. Paolo and Djuna magically catch each other’s gaze and, after a single meal, are so completely in love that even after Djuna hysterically kicks Paolo out of her home, he’s desperate to come back from more. Per the typical idyllic vampire romance, the scenario is wholly ridiculous, but there’s enough honest chemistry between Ventimiglia and de La Baume to keep their budding relationship engaging.
However, once we reach the end of the first act and there’s no clear goal or direction to the narrative, patience starts to wane. Once we tap the intrigue of Paolo and Djuna’s relationship, Mimi’s entrance is rather refreshing, but the character is entirely one note. The sisters are the antithesis of one another – Djuna’s the straightedge animal-eater and Mimi is the evil human killer. That point is made very clearly and quickly, so when Mimi doesn’t get a single additional layer to her, the character significantly loses appeal.
But that doesn’t keep writer-director Xan Cassavetes from trying to make her antics the driving force of the narrative. Presumably, had she never entered the picture, Paolo and Djuna could live happily ever after, making Mimi the ideal villainous. The problem is, we’re given zero access to Mimi on a deeper level and there’s absolutely no justification to any of her evil plans. Even though Mimi is part of the vampire community and is supported by one of its leaders, Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), she’s still out to decimate both. Whereas most villains get something from hurting the protagonists, Mimi’s behaviors have negative results all-around – for her victims and herself.
Considering Mimi’s destruction is at the core of the narrative, “Kiss of the Damned” winds up feeling like a pointless experience, but Cassavetes does find some success in creating a relatively captivating vampire world. They live in gorgeous homes and have a seemingly endless supply of funds, but the negatives of their bloodsucker status are never undermined. They don’t sparkle in the sunlight; they burn to death. The thirst for blood doesn’t just give them a constipated look on their faces; it’s so powerful it can demolish months of human blood sobriety. Had Cassavetes amped up the finer details of their lifestyle and provided a more comprehensive look at the society rules, perhaps the world would have been worth spending the time in while also appropriately framing and validating Mimi’s actions.
But she doesn’t so we’re left with Djuna and Paolo, and their charm only lasts so long. Djuna loses her fight and turns into a wet blanket while Paolo plays the role of devoted lover so well, it’s too exaggerated to be believable anymore. They’re supposed to be the film’s protagonists, but simply strutting around, complaining about Mimi’s behavior doesn’t qualify them as active heroes. They do nothing to drive the story forward and can’t even claim responsibility for the film’s biggest payoff.
With no one to root for, a villain with no motive, and a world with few rules, it’s hard to justify “Kiss of the Damned” as a worthwhile watch despite good intentions and some glimmers of a thoughtful execution.