Don’t expect vampire gore and supernatural thrills in this long, slow exploration of youthful angst and alienation. In his first English-language movie, writer-director Iwai Shunji clearly didn’t have commercial prospects or mainstream audiences in mind. Since he shot, edited, and composed original music for Vampire, it’s clear that Shunji knew precisely what kind of world and weather he wanted to create: a whited-out landscape (the Pacific Northwest) in which young people drift aimlessly, drained of any emotion that might propel them toward meaning or intimacy or life itself. These kids are like ghosts in the machine, the machine being the Internet, on which they hook up long-distance.
In Shunji’s brilliant All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), a dreamy pop singer offered a way for high school kids to connect as fans, to escape the isolation of self. In Vampire it’s a website called Side by Cide, home page for the suicidal. The young women whom vampire wannabe Simon (Kevin Zegers) meets on line and promises to help die often seem half-dead already: fragile, ethereal, fading from a disease called despair. And despair rarely comes rooted in the specific; the virus seems to be in the very air the likes of Jellyfish, Gallows, Gargoyle, Eclipse, and Ladybird breathe.
Simon’s a biology instructor who teaches his blank-faced students that we are all “slaves to millions of cells.” Such biological determinism is hardly designed to cheer up this generation of sad sacks—as Mina, an Asian teen Simon rescues from hanging herself, points out. With his pallor, wispy ‘stache, and lank hair, Simon looks like the kind of guy who puts in long hours in front of his computer, unlikely to ever be deflowered skin to skin.