Growing up undead

Quirky Quebecois coming of age film at Dave Barber Cinematheque

Image provided

Vampires have captured the imagination of western audiences for many decades, all the way from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the numerous Hollywood adaptations thereof, through romantic takes like Twilight, comedic ones like What We Do in the Shadows and action films like Blade or Morbius.

In most of these takes on the undead bloodsuckers, they are treated as alien — either old freaks with silly accents and arcane rules like Dracula, or shiny, brooding, godlike objects of desire like Twilight’s Cullens. But what if vampires are actually just like us? Nervous, awkward outcasts just trying their best to make it in this crazy world of ours.

This is the question asked by the new film Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, the debut feature by Quebec writer and director Ariane Louis-Seize that screened at the Dave Barber Cinematheque from Nov. 11 to 16.

The movie follows the life of Sasha, a stoic, deadpan young woman navigating the stresses of growing up as a vampire. Namely, the fact that she is a late bloomer, not yet fully equipped with fangs, more attracted to playing piano than hunting and was born with a rare active empathy for human life — an issue that has limited her diet to prepackaged blood bags rather than sips straight from the source.

While busking outside a dépanneur, Sasha discovers a suicidal bowling alley attendant who would make for ethically acceptable prey. But before she can chow down, she feels her conscience creep up and is unable to follow through. 

She eventually befriends the boy, Paul — who is a bit of a black sheep himself, bullied in school and maudlin in the same wide-eyed, Tim Burton way that Sasha is — eventually meeting up for consensual consumption presented in the same stumbling tone that a normal teen movie might present a first sexual experience.

However, after hesitating again to eat, she grants him a final wish in life, which leads them on a bloody and silly journey that brings them closer together and shows Paul that life might be worth living. 

Despite Sasha’s advanced age of 68, the film largely plays out like a coming-of-age story, showing Sasha inching toward adulthood through a first love, a move out of her parents’ house and plenty of hijinks. Indeed, though Louis-Seize carefully avoids vampiric clichés, the movie is rife with coming-of-age ones.

The film’s aesthetic and sensibility is quirky and offbeat in a distinctly ’00s way, recalling the deadpan yet twee dark comedies of Wes Anderson or Richard Ayoade’s Submarine in its presentation of morbid youths losing their innocence. 

Lead actors Sara Montpetit and Félix-Antoine Bénard convey this style very well, delivering their lines with the genre-trademark fast and flat affectation. Other cast members get to display a bit more juice, and the film is chock full of lovable characters such as Sasha’s ultra-violent roomie Denise, her adopted human bro CJ and Sasha’s sweetly concerned parents. 

Though the film is light on actual laughs, it elicited a respectable number of knowing smirks and sharp exhales from me for its wry dialogue and zany characters.

Coming in tight at 90 minutes, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person is a quick blast of vampiric fun, but is paced strangely and takes a little too long to arrive at its actual plot and tone.

Overall, if you are a fan of bloodsucking ghouls, indie comedies or, like me, a sucker for coming-of-age films, you would be hard-pressed to find a more offbeat and fun example in 2023