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Neither JACK & DIANE (pictured left) nor VAMPS is specifically a horror
film, though they each offer takes on supernatural beings—a humanoid id monster
in the former, bloodsuckers in the latter—that work within their own genres.
Both movies are currently in the midst of limited theatrical
release and are available on VOD, with JACK & DIANE coming to DVD/Blu-ray
January 8. While it opens with glimpses of its visceral content—a deformed
creature created by Gabe Bartalos and hair-and-organs stop-motion by none other
than the Quay Brothers—the movie is first, second and third a portrait of the
emotionally troubled romance between two very different teenage girls. Diane
(Juno Temple) is a tremulous, waiflike Britisher with a penchant for
nosebleeds, first seen getting lost in New York without a cell phone, and
wandering into a clothing store where the far more street-smart and forthright
Jack (Riley Keough) works. Sparks are struck and a night is spent together, and
the attraction seems instinctive rather than intellectual—an animal connection,
one might say.
Which is not to suggest that this is another film equating
lycanthropy with adolescent hormonal urges. Despite its early descriptions as a
“lesbian werewolf film,” JACK & DIANE doesn’t showcase a recognizable
metaphorical beast but rather a misshapen being that, like other visual cues
and dialogue, represents the consuming nature of love. Jack and Diane aren’t
always good at articulating their feelings—positive and negative—toward each
other, and the snatches of grisly imagery express feelings of fear and danger
bubbling under the surface of their passion.
They don’t appear all that often, though; for much of JACK
& DIANE, the girls deal with more prosaic threats to their togetherness,
from Diane’s disapproving aunt (Cara Seymour) to her impending departure to
attend school in Paris. The horrific stuff is just one small element of
writer/director Bradley Rust Gray’s exploration, which is most dependent on the
chemistry between his two leads. He often pushes the camera in close on them,
isolating them from the rest of the world, and the actresses are up to such
scrutiny; in roles that sometimes see them challenged to express themselves,
Keough and Temple make their feelings clear and palpable. They carry the film
through situations that are occasionally precious or oblique, and a setting
that feels vaguely out of time (it looks like the New York of the present but
sometimes feels like the New York of a couple of decades ago). As messy in
spots as young love itself can be, JACK & DIANE is engrossing and
confounding in equal measure.
There are no such peculiarities in VAMPS, which arrives on
DVD/Blu-ray November 13 following its big-screen play (its delayed New York
City debut occurs this Friday) and also deals with the bond between a pair of
young women in Manhattan—even though, a couple of Times Square scenes excepted,
it was clearly shot somewhere else (Detroit). This film, though, is a bright,
cheery, straightforward comedy about a couple of party gals who just happen to
be vampires. Goody (Alicia Silverstone, charmingly reuniting with Heckerling
from CLUELESS) has been a girl of the night for a couple of centuries, while
her BFF Stacy (Krysten Ritter) was more recently turned, and they’ve both
adapted well to living among humans. They hold down nighttime jobs as
exterminators, providing them with rats to sup on, as they’ve renounced feeding
on humans; they’re even members of a support group called Sanguines Anonymous,
whose members include a reformed Vlad Tepish (Malcolm McDowell).
This is, obviously, far from the first movie to connect
vampirism with other forms of addiction, or to present them as a persecuted
minority; here, torches and stakes have been replaced by modern processes like
audits and jury-duty summonses intended to get the vamps out into the daylight.
If bureaucracy is a new enemy in Heckerling’s world, technology is a fresh
annoyance for Goody, who longs for the simpler times she has left behind and is
exasperated by communication devices that have usurped actual personal
interaction. The writer/director is clearly channeling her own frustrations
about this phenomenon through Goody’s character, and makes a running joke out
of the ubiquity of cell phones and texting, the highlight being a hilarious
throwaway sight gag in a hospital hallway.
Throughout VAMPS, Heckerling indulges in different kinds of
nostalgia of her own, casting a couple of actors from her FAST TIMES AT
RIDGEMONT HIGH—one, amusingly, as the same character—and having Stacy attend a
film class where she watches surrealist classics like THE CABINET OF DR.
CALIGARI and UN CHIEN ANDALOU. It’s here that she meets Joey (Dan Stevens), a
nice guy she begins to fall for—and who happens to be the son of the modern Van
Helsing (Wallace Shawn). Meanwhile, Goody reconnects with a boyfriend from the
’60s, a former activist now aged into an ACLU lawyer (Richard Lewis). Their
relationship supplies some unexpected heart among a series of sight gags and
in-jokes, some of which land stronger than others. VAMPS’ success lies in its
generosity of spirit; you can sense Heckerling loves her characters, and the
cast responds in kind. Everyone involved is clearly having fun in their
roles—including Sigourney Weaver, camping it up as vampire queen Cisserus—and
that sense of fun spreads to the audience too. Like JACK & DIANE, VAMPS
doesn’t offer a lot for hardcore horror fans, but judged on their own terms,
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