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Movie Review: “KICKING BLOOD” Breathes Life into the Modern Vampire

Sunday, April 24, 2022 | Reviews

By HARLEIGH KERIAZES

Starring Alanna Bale, Luke Bilyk, Benjamin Sutherland, Ella Jonas Farlinger, and Vinessa Antoine
Written by Blaine Thurier, and Leonard Farlinger
Directed by Blaine Thurier
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KICKING BLOOD, written by Blaine Thurier and Leonard Farlinger and directed by Thurier, initially premiered in 2021 at the Toronto International Film Festival, followed by screenings at festivals across Canada. At long last, on April 15, 2022, KICKING BLOOD opened at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. KICKING BLOOD follows a modern-day vampire Anna (Alanna Bale) who meets Robbie, (Luke Bilyk) a recovering alcoholic after a blood-bender. After falling in love with Robbie, Anna sets her mind to quit her addiction to blood and decides to pursue being a human again.

As a self-proclaimed vampire fanatic, I am fascinated by how despite being monsters, vampires constantly act on their emotions – and very human ones at that. The vampire has been represented as blindly in love, hellbent on revenge, and addicted to the high of blood. They have superhuman abilities but still feel immense pain and pleasure because unlike many other creatures of the night, they were human once, too. As a monster, the vampire is regarded as representing something that we as humans fear. They have been undead bodies disappearing from graves, dangerous figures whisking away high-society women, and creatures with an insatiable appetite. Despite the animosity toward vampires feeding on humans, they are often extremely in tune with the human condition. Vampires represent the fears of sexuality, death, and as KICKING BLOOD taps into, addiction.

Anna has been in a haze of psychedelic blood bliss for as long as she can remember. Her hedonistic existence is challenged when she meets Robbie, a charming alcoholic party boy. He is looking for a drink; She is looking to feed. They bond. Anna takes him home, intrigued that Robbie doesn’t care if he lives or dies. She decides to let him live and stay with her until he gets sober, putting her at odds with her true murderous nature and the wrath of her vampire clan. When Anna watches her best mortal friend die from cancer, it inspires her to choose life. Confronted by her fellow vampires, Anna vows to quit blood and become human again. Weakened by withdrawal symptoms, Anna makes a run for it with Robbie as they are preyed upon by the vampires. In a final showdown, what it means to be human is put to the test.

Vampires may be given perks like immortality, but they are often overcome with misfortune because of their loss of humanity. The focus on addiction in KICKING BLOOD is an excellent examination of the drawbacks of being a vampire that, frankly, is not focused on enough. These drawbacks are often heightened versions of human issues, which I think is what makes them so compelling. In KICKING BLOOD, the liminality of being a vampire is a burden. Anna is immortal but is watching people around her progress in their lives, achieve goals, and find love, while she is forever stuck at the age of 24.

The film opens with Anna celebrating her birthday with the elderly staff of the library where she works. As an immortal, Anna appears indifferent to the song and cake, as it’s unknown how many birthdays she’s celebrated. Bale perfectly conveys Anna’s detachment from the milestone, which shows how disconnected Anna is from a concept like age. What would it feel like to be older than everyone around you? To live on while others around you grow old and die? Anna finishes off the night by feeding on a co-worker, allowing the bloodlust to consume her as she indulges in her addiction. Drinking blood is her sole pleasure, and it has consumed her.

Writer-director Blaine Thurier has said that his goal was “to make a meaningful film about the human side of vampires: What do they say about us, about our desires, our appetites, our fears, and weaknesses?” WIth KICKING BLOOD, Thurier achieves his intent. Despite their status as our predators, we can see ourselves in vampires. I could sense Anna’s loneliness and lack of excitement for her everlasting life. It is not difficult to see why she would be chasing the high of drinking blood. She remains sympathetic even while she is ripping open a man’s throat.

Anna and her pack Boris (Benjamin Sutherland) and Nina (Ella Jonas Farlinger) are terrifying, but we want to understand them. They are portrayed with a murderous nature, taking pleasure in playing with people for their amusement, but we find ourselves wondering what drove them to it. This is why Anna’s connection to Robbie (Bilyk) is so effective. Robbie is overcoming an addiction that has consumed his life. His presence pulls Anna back to the optimism of her lost humanity, giving her hope that she might overcome her addiction and remember what it means to live a human life. 

It’s that self-awareness from a storytelling perspective that I think makes their relationship effective. We’ve seen vampire-human relationships plenty of times in modern horror films. However, KICKING BLOOD is aware of our knowledge of genre tropes. When Anna reveals that she’s a vampire to Robbie, his response is “Yeah, I kind of figured.” Although he’s drunk enough to be unafraid of death (or perhaps he’s just unaware), the line is a cheeky call out to vampire stories past. This is what prompts Anna to keep him alive as she wonders why he didn’t fear her.

The pair perfectly mirror each other, and the film’s tone utilizes that. Anna is a vampire who has lost her will to love anything but blood, and Robbie is a human who has the same addictive relationship with alcohol. Their progression in understanding one another is inevitable; I found myself rooting for them from the start. Despite the vastly different worlds they inhabit, the pair endures similar struggles. 

KICKING BLOOD is a treat for anyone eternally on team vampire, but it is also a thoughtful film on loneliness, entrapment, and recovery. There is humor, heart, and plenty of vampiric antics for horror fans to enjoy. The exploration of the vampire’s connection to humanity is outstanding. I hope writers and filmmakers continue to experiment with this long-in-the-tooth subgenre in ways that continue to humanize the vampire. If you missed KICKING BLOOD’s short theatrical run, be sure to catch it streaming on Prime Video, or pick up the Blu-ray from XYZ Films and Decal Releasing when it drops on May 17.

 

Harleigh Keriazes
Harleigh Keriazes (@h_keriazes) is a writer/editor, as well as Intern at Rue Morgue. She frequently studies horror in the gothic, supernatural and fairy tales.