Color, 2014, 100m.
Directed by Iván Noel
Starring Sabrina Ramos, Ana María Giunta, Toto Muñoz, Lauro Veron
Artsploitation (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
You'd think the vampire mythos had been exhausted completely by now, but this clever Argentinian horror film manages to find a few new wrinkles in the formula. Sort of a pint-sized version of What We Do in the Shadows (rather than the cross between Let the Right One In and Twilight indicated on the packaging), the tale follows a young hemophiliac journalist named Alicia (Ramos) who receives an email about a remote retreat for children suffering from a rare blood disorder that makes them sensitive to light... and an unusual number of them have been unnecessarily dying.
Intrigued, Alicia packs up for a trip to the property known as Limbo where she's greeted by children all dressed in white, a ton of Catholic iconography, and a matronly caregiver named Erda (Giunta) who keeps them in check. None of the children can go out in daylight, and they all seem far too smart for their age (including one who knows way too much about wine for his age). Instead they all come out and play at night, though when they stray too far to the edge of the grounds, sinister men in black keep snatching and murdering them. It doesn't long for Alicia to suddenly realize that she's seen all of the children's faces on missing posters, and after being sedated with a little drugged tea, she discovers from Erda that they're all vampires of varying ages (some as old as eighty years old) and there are other Limbo locations all over the world. Alicia is particularly intrigued by two of the children: Siegfried (Muñoz), a blond boy with a special connection to Alicia's childhood, and the Count (Veron), an aristocratic youth whose name should be a clue that he's more than he seems. As the blooduscking children start to get ready for their annual baptism ritual for their members who are coming of age, the murderous men nearby start to close in with a plan of their own.
There's a fair amount of welcome humor here with some witty takes on what it would mean to be a vampire in arrested physical development, a pretty clever subplot about the descendants of Bram Stoker, some unorthodox use of curry, and some oddball touches like a heroic vampire feline played by "Sir Fluff." However, it's the rich vein of melancholy and pathos running throughout that really makes this one memorable: the character of Erda (who must watch and age as her charges remain eternally young or die violently); a beautiful moment with the lonely, youngest children sending unanswerable paper messages as boats downstream to their village, and the unusually touching relationship between Alicia and Siegfried, which discreetly sidesteps the more uncomfortable age issues between them to set up a wrenching situation that pays off on a surprisingly warm and satisfying note (as well as a hilarious jab at the found footage craze). Then there's climax, a particularly crazed bit of business that climaxes with the goriest game of tag ever filmed. The film isn't perfect; the choice to shoot it with average digital cameras hampers the project at times (especially since one of the cameras has a noticeable dead pixel in several shots) and results in flatter, duller blacks than film or higher grade equipment might have provided, and the sound editing is a little rough and sloppy at times. However, the sincerity, charm, and bloody inventiveness of it all should be enough to win you over.
Artsploitation brings this film to the United States with separate Blu-ray and DVD releases featuring a transfer that looks as good as you'd expect for a recent title shot in HD video. As mentioned before, the way the film was shot keeps the black levels flatter and grayer than you'd get under other circumstances, but this is probably the best rendering possible for the title. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish-language track sounds pretty solid if unspectacular, giving most of its oomph to the interesting, often effective music score (which goes nuts at the end with a techno jam you won't believe). Optional English and French subtitles are provided; the former is adequate but probably could've used another pass from an English speaker as it features several basic grammar errors and repeated words. Director Noel provides a good English-language audio commentary in which he covers everything from the casting of the child actors to the creation of the practical blood effects (and the fleeting but less impressive CGI moments involving bats), and there's also a 22-minute featurette (using the film's original title, Limbo) that takes a high-speed tour through the production from story construction through casting (over 300 possible kids from the same town!) and the actual production, with lots of great footage including rehearsals (Veron is pretty great), an acting class for Sir Fluff, an impromptu "Best Vampire Song" competition, and crazy behind-the-scenes shots involving harnesses, fake blood galore, and severed body parts. The U.S. trailer is also included along with bonus ones for Horsehead, The House with 100 Eyes, Reckless, and Der Samurai, as well as a hidden deleted scene showing the kids taking communion. It's all pretty tasty.