Toronto 2023 Review: HUMANIST VAMPIRE SEEKING CONSENTING SUICIDAL PERSON, Coming of Age When You Don't Age
Sasha is a bit of a disappointment to her parents. Not only is her body a little slow to catch up to lend the family the survival help they need, she also has no desire to participate in their most necessary, and gruesome, activity: draining humans of their blood. But that is necessary when you're a family of vampires. And Sasha just doesn't know how to be one.
The vampire is such a common trope not only cinema, it's not easy to come up with a new way of using it. And while there has been the occasional kind vampires, in Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, filmmaker Ariane Louis-Seize, in her feature debut, manages to find that combination of melancholy, longing, and compassion that slots the trope into a coming-of-age story.
We know enough about vampires that Louis-Seize (thankfully) dispenses with the litany of ways a vampire needs to live and can die; instead, she lets us know the two rules in this vampire world that are key to the story: their fangs grow in when they feel hunger or sense fear, and they must drain the victim to their death, or that victim will become a vampire. Sasha (Sara Monpetit, Maria Chapedelaine, Falcon Lake) gets hungry, of course, and her family might bring home a human who is naturally going to be scared, but her fangs still haven't appeared. Her mother insists that Sasha start contributing to the household (aka, killing), while her father wants to allow her to be ready in her own time. Sasha does buck with her beloved keyboard for cash, but it's hardly a respectable trade for a deadly monster. Sasha's melancholy moody is near-constant, her lncredibly long life stretching ahead without much to offer.
Enter Paul (Féliz-Antoine Benard), an equally melancholy person: Sasha first spots him about the jump from the roof of a bowling alley, then follows him through a shipyard as he attempts to find somewhere to end his life. And this, somehow, brings out her fangs: her bloodlust doesn't come from fear, but empathy and a person's life in danger. Could this be the key to allowing her to fulfill her destiny?
This is quite the unique meet-cute: two lost souls, one who feels his best path to giving back to the world is through his death, and the other who worries she only thing she could give is pain, in a life without purpose. Paul seems more than willing to sacrifice his life so that Sasha can finally be a proper vampire - but for her, even her fangs aren't a motivation - why can't she be a vampire that kills with kindness?
Despite being shot at night, Louis-Seize influses the film with colour - of course red, but this is the richness that comes to an interior when the exterior is unavailable except in darkness. Sasha's family have their rules, their lifestyle, and just want her to get with the programme. It's great to have this supporting cast of great Québécois performers Marie Brassard, Steve Laplante, and Sophie Cadieux - though the MVP is Noémie O'Farrell as cousin Denise, who clearly relishes in killing any man that grates on her (and a lot of people's) nerves.
What are the emotions that bring out the best, or worst, in us? Paul finally finds the strength to stand up to the bullies who have made his life miserable - but it doesn't bring him the satisfaction he thought it would. Sasha doesn't want to die, but she doesn't know how to cope with this external existence. The tone of the film is geared towards this kind of dark melancholy, but Louis-Seize gives us plenty of laughs, both verbal and slapstick - this vampire life is an odd one with the amount of coordination needing to find and dispose of bodies, after all. But the daily chore of living can feel too much, unless you can find a purpose that brings you contentment.
Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person gives a nice twist on a familiar trope, a sweetly wistful coming of age story, that asks what it means to be a part of the world that rejects you, and finding the good you can put into it.