A good film title can be hard to find. Bad ones are far more plentiful (in 2015, The Hollywood Reporter listed Dude, Where’s My Car, Freddy Got Fingered and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones among its 50 worst of all time). Which is why, when a knock-out name lands on a filmmaker’s lap, it’s often worth them changing whatever project they had planned to make it work.
This is what — sort of — happened with Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, bowing in Venice’s Giornate degli Autori sidebar and a contender for greatest film title of the year.
Canadian writer/director Ariane Louis-Seize says she had a vague idea to do a short film about a vampire girl who places an advert in a paper looking for willing blood donors, but when she pitched this to her co-writer Christine Doyon, she told her: “So there’s your title. And I thought, oh yeah!”
With this new, eye-catching name in hand, she scrapped plans for the short, changed the plot around and turned it into her directorial debut.
While teenage angst and vampires may have been regular on-screen bedfellows since, at least, Twilight (and maybe even Buffy), Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person — shot in and around Montreal — gives the pairing a new twist, following Sasha, a sensitive young vampire with such an aversion to killing that’s she unable to even draw her fangs. Cast out by her disappointed parents who cut off her life-giving supply of blood bags (kept in the fridge and topped up by the murders they’re forced to do themselves) she meets suicidal teen Paul, the two realising their differing plights could be mutually beneficial.
Louis-Seize says she’d be wanting to do a vampire movie since making her first short film, 2016’s Wild Skin (about a young woman who has a strange erotic experience after finding a live python in her apartment), and was inspired by — among various genre titles — A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (which she showed this to her lead actress, Sara Montpetit).
“I watched a lot of vampire movies, and I wanted to reference them, but I also wanted to do my own thing,” she says. “I’m also really inspired by mumblecore and coming-of-age stories, and the visual aesthetics of Wes Anderson.”
It was after watching the 1983 film The Hunger many years ago that Louis-Seize says she realised through movies about vampires you could talk about “lots of deep, human struggles.” The David Bowie-starring feature was the first she saw where vampires weren’t just blood-thirsty killers. “It was something between attraction and repulsion, and I like that grey area where I can play around.”
Giving her film more comedy vibes, one of the new (at least she thinks so) vampire elements that Louis-Seize added to her film were Sasha’s life-giving baggies, which she’s seen sucking on noisily through a straw.
“It kind of felt childish, like she was sucking out of a little juice box,” she notes. Given the amount that Sasha drank, they had to create a suitable blood substitute that Montpetit could enjoy. “Usually they use corn syrup, but it’s really sweet and we didn’t want her to feel sick, so we tried a few recipes and made her taste each one,” she says, adding that the production effectively had it’s own little fake blood station.
Curiously, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person isn’t the only coming-of-age vampire film from a first-time female filmmaker premiering in Venice. For Night Will Come, the feature debut of Céline Rouzet and screening in the Orizzonti competition, follows a teenage boy in small-town France who tries to conceal his lust for blood.
Louis-Seize suggests it was Julia Ducournau’s Cannes-winning body horror Titane that helped pave the path to see such titles get slots on the Lido.
“I think it was a statement that’s there’s a place for female genre filmmakers — I think it made a difference for the openness of the festival.”