Vampire dark comedy brings new blood to genre

TIFF '21: Fifteen years after the idea was born, Canadian musician/filmmaker Blaine Thurier's Kicking Blood was shot in 14 days in Sudbury, ON after New Real took a stake in the project.

The movie industry hall of fame is crammed with films about characters battling addiction, whether gambling, substance, alcohol or sex. But modern day vampires that want to kick their murderous bloodsucking habit? Not so much.

That, however, is the premise of Kicking Blood, which explores what happens when world weary vampire Anna falls in love with charming but self-destructive alcoholic Robbie. Determined to get them on the road to recovery, Anna turns her back on blood hangovers and seeks to rediscover her lost humanity.

The story is the brainchild of Estevan, SK’s Blaine Thurier, rock star turned writer/director, who “wanted to make a meaningful film about the human side of vampires: what do they say about us, about our desires, appetites, fears and weaknesses?”

Anna’s dependency provides an entry point into themes such as “disconnection and loss of community” says Thurier. “But the film is also about reconnecting, finding love. We hope audiences find it engaging, meaningful and fun.”

Yes, you read that right. Despite the film’s raw subject matter, there is comedy, says Thurier. “I didn’t want this story to be turgid. Addicts need compassion and support, but their stories are not completely bleak. There is humour and honour.”

The film’s initial premise came 15 years ago when Thurier, a synthesizer player, was touring with his former band, Canadian indie darlings the New Pornographers. About a decade later, band member Todd Fancey reminded him of the idea and Thurier decided to rekindle it. “I completed a script and was ready to go with whatever I could lay my hands on – cast, equipment… But then I sent it to New Real Films on a whim and they liked it.”

With Thurier pegged as director, Toronto-based New Real’s co-founder Leonard Farlinger came in as co-writer and the two evolved the script into its current form. Explaining the attraction, Farlinger says: “We’ve dealt with addiction in previous films like Born To Be Blue, but not in this way. Using vampire lore was a fresh take.”

Jennifer Jonas, New Real co-founder and producer of Kicking Blood, agrees – but stresses the genre dimension doesn’t dominate. There are no fangs, coffins or creepy castles. “It’s a sweet, emotional film,” she says, “with really strong performances from Alanna Bale (Cardinal), Luke Bilyk (Degrassi: The Next Generation) and the cast.”

While humour and sweetness are core narrative components, the film’s tone also accentuates the entrapment of addiction. The set design includes security bars on Anna’s apartment windows. The camera and lighting enclose her with intruding foregrounds and shadows until the finale breaks open this motif with a beautiful sunrise. Thurier says DOP Jonathon Cliff creates “a poetic naturalism. From shades of warm reds to jarring blues, his cinematography hypnotizes.”

Because of COVID-19, the shoot was delayed a year until February 2021 – but this brought unexpected benefits. “It gave us more time to polish the scripts,” notes Farlinger. Jonas adds: “We shot for 14 days in Sudbury when it was in lockdown and the temperature was minus 25. That reinforced the sense of isolation.”

The production received support from Ontario Creates and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, says Farlinger, and a further boost when levelFILM boarded as Canadian distribution partner at script stage. Subsequently Paris-based Elle Driver took on worldwide sales. John Bain, levelFILM’s head of distribution, says he was attracted by the “thoughtful premise and the compelling Anna/Robbie relationship.”

Regarding marketing, Bain says it’s great having Thurier for Q&As. “But the film’s rollout plan will become clearer after TIFF. It would be elevated by a theatrical release, but that’s complicated by COVID. There are many options with theatrical windows and platforms but we need to see how buyers and reviewers react.”

Kicking Blood will world premiere today (Sept. 10) in the Contemporary World Cinema programme at TIFF.