So vam is the feature debut of 18-year-old Australian transgender filmmaker Alice Maio Mackay, a newcomer looking to reshape the horror landscape. His seat-at-the-table aspirations align with those of Brad Michael Elmore Bit, but with an Everest-sized disclaimer: Mackay operates without solid funding – the only credited producer is “Alice Maio Mackay” – and there’s a very “student thesis” presentation on the affair. His technical moves are jerky and unpolished, but that doesn’t discredit Mackay’s stronger voice as a storyteller and scene-setter. So vam is a story of intent versus execution, masking low-budget common sense with passionate storytelling.
Mackay and his co-writer Ben Pahl Robinson cast South Australian make-up artist and drag performer Xai as teenager Kurt, ostracized for his queer identity. Kurt is regularly beaten up by abusive bullies and dreams of escaping small town bigotry to become a famous drag celebrity. After a particularly violent assault in an alley leaves Kurt coughing up blood, compassionate vampires dispatch the evil attackers and disappear into the night. However, the absurd event turns out to be a prelude: former vampire Landon (Chris Asimos) feeds on a vulnerable and lonely Kurt, who is rescued by his new allies, who teach the newly hunted vampires survival skills. . The basics like keeping a low profile and feeding on the worst bastards alive: white supremacists, predators and so on.
Frequently, So vam meets smashing editing, bland backing performances, and clunky fade-in transitions. Mackay’s team struggles to counter natural sunlight and background noise in more public places, emphasizing their meager means of production, and there’s certainly no fight choreographer, given that the film‘s shaky camera tactics can’t hide the weaker of the “action” interludes. So vam compares unfavorably even to Shudder’s less rich indies like Spider One’s recent Allegory, imitating friends living out their vampire fantasies with someone’s family’s Handycam. Sometimes it’s inexcusable and speaks of novice abilities, but that’s what’s expected of a literal novice.
Mackay certainly has promise as a developing filmmaker with top-notch vision. As Kurt struts through the halls of their high school before judgmental eyes or hits a supernatural nightclub, Mackay and cinematographer Aaron Schuppan design frames infused with catwalk bravery or neon luminescence. There’s confidence and boldness behind So vam which gives insight into Mackay’s style and substance, unafraid to champion LGBTQ+ themes in their most frustrated and uncomfortable form. The screenplay’s brilliant achievements tell of Bram Stoker writing Dracula as a monstrous manifestation of Stoker’s repressed homosexuality and unleash a vengeful ’80s revenge against the counselors of the conversion camps. So vam is uncontained, messy, and aggressive in a way that swings hard and doesn’t worry about misfires, which again is a compliment and a plea for adjusted expectations.
This is the story of two films: the one on paper and the one in practice. Special effects that melt bloodsucked victims look like tinted chocolate sculptures under a super hot hair dryer. The hard-hitting plot advancement that resonates thematically must be uncovered behind sometimes sloppy on-screen camera tactics. Mackay does what every aspiring filmmaker says and does their movie, odds are doomed. Whether this is the right course of action for So vam will be in the eye of onlookers, depending on their patience for microbudget humility. Mackay’s empowering presence and constant effort to do something more than just dull Dracula riff will mean infinitely more to the right audience.
Mackay acknowledges the horror genre as a place where “monsters” and “innocents” are often recontextualized, covering topics ranging from homophobia to chameleon identities. Outside audiences don’t get a diluted glimpse of the oppression and intolerance that exists universally as Xai navigates misguided conversations with parents or laments with veteran drag performers about worsening conditions outside facility shelters. A cast that includes trans activist Grace Hyland and other local drag talent creates a cinematic bubble where queer horror fans can feel seen and comforted, uplifting what might be another poor forgotten vampire.
There is an audience that will adore the camp, the carnage and the cathartic commiseration of So vam. There will be others who can’t stand the introductory nature born of its behind-the-scenes barriers. Indulgence is the name of So vam, while drag sequences devour execution bits and vampiric horrors never look awful next to it. Specifically, Mackay favors the late-night genre crowd that might howl as goth-chic vampires share the blood of a date night criminal. It’s a bruised fruit that might deter based on its appearance, but those who recognize the beauty beneath might still find pleasure in sucking its tantalizing juices dry.
Director: Alice Maio Mackay
Writer: Alice Maio Mackay, Ben Pahl Robinson
With : Xai, Chris Asimos, Emma Bleby, Grace Hyland, Molly Ferguson
Release date: August 25, 2022 (thrill)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody disgustingand Anywhere else he is authorized to spread the gospel of Demonic Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Do not feed him especially after midnight.