Kiss of the Damned (2012)
Written and Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Starring Joséphine de La Baume, Roxane Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Caitlin Keats, Anna Mouglalis, and Michael Rapaport
Vampire movies featuring women used to be about sex, implied or explicit. The story of Countess Bathory has been filmed many times with varying degrees of predatory lesbian action. Naked, young vampire women occupy a significant portion of the filmographies of sexploitation-horror directors like Jean Rollin. But we’re starting to see more films that treat female vampires as actual characters, even as the Underworld series reduces Kate Beckinsale to a fetishized killer. One of these is Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned, which explores the struggle between intellectual and physical desire.
The central struggle in the movie is between sisters Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) and Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), both of whom are vampires. Djuna is part of a group that wants to emulate human society, to subject themselves to rules in exchange for the benefits of pooled resources and shared culture. They’re an intellectual bunch, drawn to philosophy and the arts. Djuna herself is a translator of poetry. One of their biggest tenets is the abstention of drinking human blood, as that way leads to detection and extermination.
Mimi sees no reason why she should have to curb her behavior. She acts on her desires without regard for the difficulties that she causes for others in her species. Their sanctimony, she perceives as hypocrisy, because they deny what they are under the facade of reason. As she points out, Djuna’s turning of a human lover violates her own position. After all, she had to drink his blood to do it.
What I find fascinating in this movie, aside from the interplay between the sisters themselves, is that the philosophical conflict threatens to upend the vampire community. It’s still a new experiment, as vampires reckon time, so it doesn’t have tradition to back it up. Prominent members still argue about their guiding principles, and while there’s a sense that they agree on many issues it feels as though the group may yet splinter. So when Mimi breezes in on a trail of bodies, she’s a viable threat to the stability of the endeavor.
Kiss of the Damned rips the mask of civility off of its characters. They happen to be vampires, but this exposure works for humans as well. Our laws and social conventions aim to hold us above the animal kingdom, but they’re still props. We cling to them when we can and tell ourselves that we are reasoned and superior, but we’re all just one slip away from a fall from grace.