Rating: 3 out of 5.

Kicking Blood, my first film viewed for 2021’s Toronto International Film Festival, acts as a surprisingly great start to round off the festivities. Vampires have never been one of my favorite subgenres of horror (I tend to think they work better on the page or in television format to properly expand the mythology), but when one spins the lore as a metaphor for addiction, my interest is instantly piqued. Director Blaine Thurier works with co-writer Leonard Farlinger to craft a singular, bizarre, and frequently hilarious entry into the annals of vampire cinema.

Anna (Alanna Bale) is a vampire growing bored of her daily routine. Her friends are just bloodsuckers without compassion who see humans as food, whilst Anna’s one human friend, Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore), does not have long to live. Robbie (Luke Bilyk), freshly kicked to the curb by his sister for fooling around with her fiancé (“just a couple of guys having fun!”), ends up stumbling drunkenly through the streets. Anna picks him up and takes him back to her place, perhaps seeing something of herself in him—or maybe she was just thirsty.

In a refreshing turn of events, Anna is upfront from the onset about being a vampire. As soon as she has Robbie alone, Anna tells him “I’m going to suck your blood and get high as fuck.” From here, a strange relationship develops, as Anna becomes enthralled in Robbie’s determination to quit booze once and for all. She begins to question her own self-worth, including whether becoming a mortal again would be beneficial both emotionally and spiritually. Following Anna’s journey along the way is where Kicking Blood becomes more than just your average vampire movie. The cast, in particular the two leads, fit the tone of the script and are perfectly in sync with one another.

While scenes where Anna hunts with her “pack of cheetahs” are fun, they are nothing the genre has not explored already. The film has style in spades, but lacks in depth and characterization. I never felt like I got into Anna or Robbie’s actual headspace enough to fall in love with their characters. Minor faults aside, Kicking Blood is an original spin on the vampire lore that kept me entertained and captivated as it barreled towards a meaningful and layered ending.

Kicking Blood screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

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