When I mention the title The Vampire Diaries do not, for even a fleeting moment, confuse this film with the watered down teen angst soon to be unleashed upon unwitting CW Network viewers of the same name. Banish anything of that nature from your mind for, while yes, two of the main characters happen to be sixteen year old girls, there is not even a meager residual moment of anything vaguely resembling the de-fanged Twilight-esque trend. Phil Messerer and his brilliant cast of actors have assembled one of the most unique and highly entertaining new indie vampire films I have had the pleasure of screening, to date! Irreverent, eerie, hysterically funny and deeply depraved, Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries, Part 1 combines the best of the vampire genre in one concise, original presentation that will undoubtedly be held as a defining moment in the modern interpretation of the myth. With a sick, slick artistic style that is a superb blend of Andy Warhol and early David Lynch films, Messerer has delivered exactly what I have been craving: an original vampire movie! Thicker Than Water has already been the winner of the Gold Kahuna Award in the 2009 Honlulu International Film Festival, Best Director & Best Music in the 2007 B-Movie Fest (9 nominations), Best Art Direction in the 2008 Action On Film International Festival and an Official Selection of the 2009 Bram Stoker Film Festival, 2008 Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival, 2008 Washington D.C. International Horror Film Festival, 2008 NewFilmMakers NY, as well as a host of other accolades. Trust me, if I had an award of my own to add to the list I would happily do so at this moment for I can definitely see now what all of the praise has been for.
Thicker Than Water is the story of the Baxters, a family coming to terms with the revelation that their youngest daughter has become a vampire. This perfect dysfunctional American suburban family dynamic is complete with the stereotypical goth girl, worshiping an alter to Anne Rice in her blood-red bedroom and haunting the local Curiouso Museum (Eilis Cahill), the outgoing preppy “twin” daughter (Devon Dionne), a mother of foreign descent who is bitter from a failing marriage and lost dreams of being a figure skater (Jo Jo Hristova) and a pothead older bother who spends his days in the basement working on strange scientific research revolving around the human brain (Michael Strelow). As quirky as they first appear on screen, this family is probably exactly who’s living next door to you right now, if it’s not your own family. Thus, there is an instant identifier that draws the viewer in and makes the connection of association that truly great films cleverly devise quickly to bond the audience to the work and allow them to invest intelligently and emotionally in seeing out the rest of the story. As the plot develops and you are drawn into the family’s desperate attempt to cope with the daughter’s affliction you begin to realize the complexity and depth of this film. It is not simply about a girl becoming a vampire. Alternately, it is not merely about a eccentric suburban family’s response to the supernatural. It is a contemplative examination of the lengths to which the human psyche will go to cope and normalize even the most absurdly extreme situations. There is a particular moment in which the narrator, the goth teenager, reflects on how when (and I am paraphrasing here) the most valuable thing is ripped from us, if we are given the chance to have it back again there is absolutely nothing we will not do to protect it and make sure that its removal never happens again. This is a profound statement and one that we rarely consider, even when we, ourselves, are face to face with just such a circumstance. Amidst the alternating moments of emotional trauma and twisted black humor, it was truly refreshing for the film to make me pause and nod my head as I pondered this statement. A mark of a truly fantastic film!
Another few aspects of the film, besides the remarkable acting, brilliant special effects and genius scene direction, that caught my attention were elements, that I am always emphasizing in my reviews of indie films, that upcoming directors should pay close attention to. These elements are setting, location and effects. Thicker Than Water is not a big-budget production by any means. This is a pretty bare-bones indie film with limited resources. However, after the first couple of minutes you cease to think about that, you cease to be reminded that this is a low budget film. Why? Because Messerer stayed within his means and focused on the story! The majority of the film takes place in one of four rooms in the house: the basement, the goth girl’s bedroom, the living room or the brother’s “laboratory”. However, it is the same house. Only occasionally are we taken out of this setting to perhaps the backyard or the museum of the weird I mentioned earlier, and each time we depart from the house, it is with purposeful intention that serves only to develop the plot and move the story forward. This allows the actors to focus on the importance of pouring themselves into their roles while allowing the audience to feel as if they are becoming part of the family and its painful emotional, moral struggles. The special effects are utilized with a beautifully orchestrated momentum and timing that capitalizes on the unseen as much as it allows for the seen. Again, the eerie psychedelic Warhol feel of certain scenes are augmented by the cleverly placed gore which come off as both gruesome and deviously funny at the same time keeping the viewer on their toes. Shocked or laughing out loud, the unpredictability is priceless from scene to scene.
The last aspect of this film I would like to touch upon before I close is the treatment of the actual vampire myth itself. It is apparent that the appreciation of vampire lore is not superficial for Phil Messerer. Not only does he incorporate an introduction of ancient Mayan lore, something I always adore, to the equation as a backdrop to the story, causing one to wonder where future installments of this series will lead, but throughout the film he explores various different historical icons of the genre, such as Elizabeth Bathor, and modern cultural icons, such as Anne Rice. Though these mentions may be brief, they are extremely relevant to the development of the story and reveal the physical research Messerer did before embarking on this project. It is obvious he was not simply attempting to capitalize on the current popularity of the genre when he developed Thicker Than Water. However, Messerer somehow walks this amazingly fine line between reverence and irreverence throughout the movie, both paying an honestly sincere tribute to the genre while sarcastically poking fun at the more outrageously flamboyant examples of its rebirth. In juxtaposition we have, at one point, a ravenous new vampire on the verge of psychosis in a bizarre blood-splattered basement face to face with the stereotypical debonair southern fop, introduced to us by the iconic Ms. Rice herself, resulting in one of the most outrageously amusing scenes I have witnessed in a vampire film in the past decade. Somehow Messerer makes this wry tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the range of the vampire genre work in a way that leaves me wanting to applaud his keen observation and sophisticated delivery. After all, if you cannot laugh at oneself, you do not understand yourself at all. In the midst of this, Messerer has developed, by pulling from the ancient and the modern alike, his own twist on the myth that is the perfect blend of romantic and horrific, lending all of the scientific rationalizations and intellectual philosophizing that we find most appealing in the world of the vampire. A true gem of a film!
Honestly, I could go on all night about this film, but truly, it is one you simply have to see for yourself. And I am very excited to see what the next installment, entitled The Serpent Queen, has in store for us all! Currently, Thicker Thank Water is available for purchase on Amazon (click here). There is also a petition underway to make the film available on Netflick! For more information please visit vampirediaries.wetpaint.com.