I’m sure that almost everyone out there has tried to capture a feeling from their past at least once…
...At its core, that’s what Danni and the Vampire is all about, a young woman trying to reignite a feeling, something she can only achieve from the emotional pay off of helping another person.
This American supernatural indie romantic dark comedy, written, directed, and edited by Max Werkmeister, made its world premiere in the “Graveyard Shift” of the 51st Nashville Film Festival and is now playing at the Salem Horror Fest 2020.
In it we follow Danni (Alexandra Landau), an odd and slightly unhinged young woman that lives in her car (decorated, I might add, with adorable banners and a row of bobbleheads lining the dashboard I also happen to have lining my own desk). Danni takes us on a journey to California where her past immediately catches up with her. The tone is set two minutes in when we find Danni attempting to feel something by turning up the voltage while electrocuting Matthew (Derek Ocampo), complete with ball gag. But alas, she has no such luck, and must continue to search elsewhere.
Matthew, it turns out, is a monster slayer in an organisation called C.R.I.E.S, and they want to recruit Danni to kill a vampire they’ve captured. But Margaret (Caron Clancey), a member of opposing organization #SUPNAT, which advocates for the protection of monsters, wants Danni to save the vampire instead.
Danni’s reputation as the “devil slayer” responsible for the disappearance of the Jersey Devil makes her incredibly valuable to both sides, but Margaret knows the truth of the Jersey Devil’s fate: rather than kill it, Danni chose to set it free. So why not free the vampire? Danni agrees to save Remy (Henry Kiely) and, when everything goes wrong and the two of them end up alone on the road together, she tries her best to help him achieve his dreams and get her emotional payoff, no matter the cost.
Vampire wastes no time, jumping right into the story and maintaining its pace and fun atmosphere until the credits roll. There are definitely moments of heavy-handedness and sometimes the comedy was a little too wacky for me, but it was mixed in with a lot of dry and morbid humour that was more to my taste. Most importantly, the film is full of heart and characters that are truly enjoyable to watch.
It’s rare for me, someone well-known to dislike love stories, to say the romantic relationship was their favourite part of a movie, but, in this instance, it really was. Depictions of romance where partners are truly friends with each other are hard to come by, but these two were incredibly likeable even as they were stealing churches from priests and depriving people of a place of worship. Their chemistry was incredible and made them an enjoyable watch even when the runtime went a little too long for me.
The side characters, like Margaret, the activist who doesn’t hesitate to move on to the next project before the current one is complete, and Kane (Scott Vermeire), the C.R.I.E.S operative with a lot of anger issues, are equally as entertaining to watch. Their interactions with each other were an obvious reference to the types of confrontations the left and right political sides so frequently have. While Kane was over the top and loud, Caron Clancey’s performance as Margaret was more nuanced and eye-catching. She proved to be one of my favourite characters, along with the more subtle Remy.
Henry Kiely, who plays Remy, also had a hand in the fun visual effects alongside Michael Millspaugh and Clayton Root. The cinematography, by Jaime Ballesteros, was striking and stylistic and did a great job of amplifying the tone and aesthetic of the movie. The music by Brendan Kelly and Sean Kelly was great and perfectly suited to the story, and I even added a few songs to my Spotify playlists. The amount of work they invested, and how well it came off considering the film’s small budget, make it clear that Danni and the Vampire is a labour of love.
Danni and the Vampire is a fast-paced horror that leans hard into the comedy. It’s a fun ride with a lot to say and will likely leave you itching to make a road trip playlist of your own.
By Dani Vanderstock