What: Film Review
Directed and Written by: Onur Tukel
Produced by: Onur Tukel, Max Heller, Clifford McCurdy, and Melodie Sisk
Starring: Onur Tukel, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Dustin Guy Defa, Dakota Goldhor, Melodie Sisk, Alex Karpovsky
Running Time (in min.): 86 minutes
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Official Selection of the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival
If you had asked me in 2013 for my critical take on revisionist vampire films, I would have blown a raspberry in your face and sent you packing with a mighty, “Humbug!” Any movie about vampires that subscribes to traditional mythologies about their behavior, origins, and penchant for nice clothes is prematurely exhausting; but add to that mass the “original takes,” on the blood-suckers over the years, and you have a stack of titles from film, television, and literature long enough to wrap around a coffin several hundred times. Besides their wonderful undead counterparts – zombies – few creatures have been revised and reconstructed more in visual media than the vampires. I’ve been sick of them for years, and not even a sleek Jarmusch film can change that.
So the shock of seeing not one but two idiosyncratic versions of vampirism already this year – both of them hysterical, sour, and clever in equal measure – is extreme. This site will feature a review of the first, the Sundance 2014 hit What We Do In The Shadows from directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, later in the year. The second, which had its World Premiere at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival and was picked up soon after for distribution by MPI Media Group, is the less inventive. Luckily, it’s also the funnier of the two.
Onur Tukel (Richard’s Wedding, Septien) stars in Summer of Blood as Erik Sparrow, who looks like Zach Galifianakis’s long-lost Turkish cousin. Erik is a selfish, lazy hipster, but he’s got a mind for pop culture and a quick enough wit that when we meet him, he’s dating the beautiful Jody (Indie stalwart Anna Margaret Hollyman, White Reindeer.) Cynical and pretentious, it’s not long before Tukel’s character alienates Jody in one of the funniest break-up scenes in recent memory, leading her to pick up a handsome new lover within minutes of asking the protag to marry her. As Sparrow goes into a steady downward spiral and insults various romantic prospects, a miserable night on the streets of New York results in his being ferociously bitten by a gangly stranger (writer/director Dustin Guy Defa.)
Already, if you’re reading closely, you will be concerned about the film’s novelty. It certainly has an unimpressive logline and won’t benefit financially from timing: the dearth of vampire flicks since Twilight took over the planet has been overwhelming and tiresome.
But Tukel demonstrates quickly that any attempt at a new mythology is beside the point; what’s at – and I’m so sorry for this – stake here is the paralyzing snark of Brooklyn coolness. Erik is apathetic to the point of sociopathy: he sexually harasses his coworker (played with charisma by Dakota Goldhor) and, when rejected, masturbates to stolen photos of her. He sweats and slumps through embarrassing sex with strangers. His narcissism is matched only by his passive-aggression – and he’s treated with appropriate coldness by the people around him.
What makes these goings-on so palatable is the laugh-a-minute script by Tukel (who also served as the film’s director, producer, and editor.) Not a word comes out of the man’s mouth that doesn’t target some group or gender, and profanity is the tie that binds his merry cast. Popping up in appropriately nasty supporting roles are Alex Karpovsky (who directed Tukel in 2012’s Red Flag) as a noxious coworker; Jason Selvig, as Jody’s asshole rebound; and producer Melodie Sisk as a needy sexual partner with a biting fetish.
Early reviews have noted the influence of Woody Allen on Tukel’s impressive work here, but Summer of Blood strikes a nerve with the same caustic humor as Rick Alverson’s 2012 masterpiece The Comedy. In that film, a spoiled, mustachioed hipster played by Tim Heidecker has lapsed into full-fledged monstrousness, treating those around him without a hint of real emotion or concern. Tukel’s film is far more intentionally uproarious – its billing as a “horror-comedy,” is apt, if perhaps simplistic for the sake of marketability – and showcases its filmmaker’s eye for the absurd. Few scenes in this year’s films have been as funny as when the protagonist, in full vampire mode, goes back to the place of his first bite, only to end up giving a bath to Defa’s vampiric Gavin. The sharp one-liners and an excessive amount of cultural references start to grate by the end of the film’s measured eighty-six minute run time, but the first few hundred jokes strike flawlessly. That’s a pretty good ratio.
What distinguishes Summer of Blood from its generic and comic lineages is Tukel’s own precision. Erik is a notably real loser – that is, he’s not some good guy with a harsh exterior, or just a difficult person trying to pull himself together. Instead, the character provides Tukel with a much-deserved outlet: it takes an immense likeability to make such a selfish, entitled jerk come out on top. It helps that his direction of the actors involved, notably the charming Goldhor and the increasingly indispensable Hollyman, belies a heightened professionalism not so clearly found in the film’s micro-budg effects and goofy make-up. Most importantly, this is a vampire picture that ignores the mythic consequences of its fateful bites – and thank goodness for that.