By RACHEL REEVES
Starring Alexandra Landau, Henry Kiely and Caron Clancey
Directed by Max Werkmeister
Written by Max Werkmeister
Ugly Cupcake Entertainment
If you’re going to make a vampire film in this day and age, you better do something new and different with it. Thankfully, that’s exactly what writer and director Max Werkmeister does in his feature film debut, DANNI AND THE VAMPIRE. Although unequivocally vampiric in nature, the strength of the film resides in its endearing characters, campy black humor, and genuine heart.
One of the more interesting aspects of DANNI AND THE VAMPIRE’s story is how it doesn’t start out as a vampire film at all. Haphazardly driving across the US, Danni (Alexandra Landau) is a young drifter who happens to be infamous in cryptid circles for her association with the Jersey Devil. After years of tracking and hunting the creature, Danni successfully trapped it and brought an end to its bloody killing spree. While, as far as the public is concerned, Danni killed the creature, the facts tell a different story. Softened by the Devil’s helplessness, Danni secretly freed the creature and part of herself simultaneously. Thanks to the luxury of a hefty settlement, Danni searches the country for something, anything, to give her that feeling again.
An opportunity finally comes when Danni finds herself introduced to two very different organizations involved with one particular cryptid. First, she meets Matthew (Derek Ocampo) who belongs to the organization C.R.I.E.S., which is dedicated to the uprooting and extermination of various cryptids. Matthew and his comrades have captured a vampire named Remy (Henry Kiely) — and they want Danni to end his life. This discovery prompts Margaret (Caron Clancey) to also get involved. Head of a rival cryptid advocacy group dedicated to the support and freeing of captured creatures, Margaret is one of the few people who know that Danni actually helped the Jersey Devil. Jumping at the opportunity to experience the feeling she’s been craving, Danni double crosses Matthew, frees Remy, and the two escape in darkly comic, neon-drenched, blood-soaked fashion.
This powerfully original opening act puts Werkmeister’s special brand of comedy on full display. Cleverly poking fun at both militia style groups and keyboard warrior types simultaneously, the lighthearted social satire remains well-balanced throughout the film. DANNI AND THE VAMPIRE also gives leading lady, Landau ample opportunity to showcase her impressively theatrical comedic capabilities. Campy, exaggerated, and almost cartoonish in nature, Landau’s performance as Danni is completely over-the-top and she makes no apologies for her bold personality. When combined with Kiely’s slightly subdued, but equally nuanced performance as the loveable and well-intentioned Remy, the duo become a refreshing pair: bound by their desire to support and improve each other’s lives.
Riding the high of their daring escape, Danni and Remy set off to fulfill his long percolating dream of establishing a remote vampire sanctuary. Along the way the pair encounter a priest, his dedicated flock of worshippers, and an old vampire friend of Remy’s. Playing out like a dark and well-worn joke, the couple’s limitless enthusiasm and dedication to their cause inevitably wreak havoc on those around them. Despite this part of the film feeling a bit stretched out at times, it’s genuinely hard not to fall under the duo’s spell. Seamlessly and earnestly transitioning from friends to romantic partners, the relationship never feels forced and remains grounded in their mutual support of each other. While side stories and characters cause the film to veer off the path at times, it’s Danni and Remy who consistently reel it back in.
Unapologetically bold with its humor, characters, and stylistic choices, DANNI AND THE VAMPIRE stands as an invigorating blood-soaked comedy, dusted with glitter and gore. With a sharp eye for humor in both his writing and behind the camera, Werkmeister is an interesting and intriguing new voice in the horror realm. In a time where bad news, limited social interaction, and impending doom seem to be the new norm, DANNI AND THE VAMPIRE offers a welcome and energetic distraction.