kiss of the damnedDir. Xan Cassavetes
(2013, R, 97 minutes)

Vampires have been done to death, so to speak, so I’d hoped Kiss of the Damned, an independent thriller from first-time feature director Xan Cassavetes, of the famous filmmaking family, would be unique either in style or storytelling – a traditional thriller, expertly made, like Let the Right One In, or perhaps something more subversive. What we get instead is bad True Blood fan-fiction.

The story follows Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume), a vampire living an ascetic lifestyle until she meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), a handsome mortal screenwriter who inspires her to give in to her animal instincts. Using vampirism to explore a primal kind of eroticism might be interesting, but their relationship has no more depth or sophistication than a Harlequin romance novel.

The screenplay asks us to accept that Djuna and Paolo, within days of meeting, are hopelessly infatuated with each other, and that Paolo would agree to become a vampire within minutes of first learning that vampires exist. These opening scenes are preposterously rushed, so I never believed Djuna’s obsession with Paolo, or Paolo’s desire to commit what amounts to suicide for a woman he barely knows. They make decisions to convenience the screenplay rather than as a reflection of any genuine personalities.

Making matters worse is the introduction of Djuna’s trouble-making sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), along with an entire underground society of vampires who wish to assimilate with human beings. The largely expository dialogue about vampire life is unintentionally funny, the performances alternate between stiltedness and hysteria, and the plot complications are absurdly melodramatic.

But Cassavetes’s biggest mistake is to take this material so seriously, to the point that the film’s significant flaws topple even further into ridiculousness. (True Blood, at its best, at least has a sense of humor about itself.) So while the filmmaker traffics in the same vampire cliches from a thousand gothic romances, she and her characters seem wholly unaware of how silly it is.