Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wendigo Meets CRAVINGS (Daddy's Girl, 2006)

"You picked the wrong movie," Wendigo told me after we made Bled our first review off the FearNet channel last week. I assumed that he simply wanted to remind me that Bled was objectively awful. As it turned out, he'd already found a better vampire movie on the cable channel, and when I got a chance to watch Daddy's Girl I was obliged to agree. But not many people seem to agree. When I last checked, the film had only a 4.2 rating at IMDB. That's because most people have probably seen it under its American title, Cravings. Once I showed Wendigo the DVD box art for Cravings, he said he couldn't blame vampire fans for feeling pissed at the false advertising. The box features a fanged mouth and little else, and there is no such mouth and no such teeth in Daddy's Girl. D. J. Evans's film is a vampire movie the way George Romero's Martin is, or perhaps even less so. Martin at least thinks he's a traditional vampire, while Evans's Nina (Jamie Winstone, whom Wendigo liked in the British zombies-vs.-reality TV miniseries Dead Set) probably thinks of herself as no more than a girl who drinks blood.

Nina starts the film under psychiatric observation after slashing her wrists, in the care of psychologist Stephen (Richard Harrington), who has issues of his own from a dying mother and excessive medication to a dead wife -- a wrist-cutter herself -- who seems to haunt his bathroom. Encountering Nina accelerates Stephen's downward spiral. His obsession with Nina becomes an infatuation with her defensive mother (Louise Delamere), which results in an unprofessional affair. He eventually realizes -- he has to be told by another victim -- that Nina is cajoling or forcing people to shed blood for her to drink, in addition to cutting herself and drinking her own blood. Clinically speaking, as a computer screen explains, she suffers from Renfield's Syndrome -- not Dracula's, because it's a progressive disorder, from little nips to big gulps. What Stephen doesn't realize is that Nina most likely hastened his mother's demise by drinking from her. What he does know is bad enough to make him want to commit her, but she accuses him of simply trying to get her out of the way so he can carry on with her mum. Nor does Mum want her daughter institutionalized; in fact, she proves to be the archetypal Renfield of the picture, the enabler who'll ultimately help hasten Stephen's professional and personal ruin until he's reduced to a head of human cattle for Nina, and perhaps a stud for Mum as well....

Wendigo considers Daddy's Girl a stylish and serious imagining of real-world vampirism that was ill-served by an American repackaging that was bound to infuriate many viewers. Even if properly advertised, it's probably too quiet and deliberate a film, not to mention too mundane, to suit many horror fans -- though it gets fairly extreme in its last half hour. All that came before is a patient warning for the real horror to come, from Nina's concoction of a poodle shake to her nearly Audition-like entrapment and exploitation of Stephen. Director Evans's subdued approach is appropriate to the story and the acting suits the material. Taking up my comparison to Martin, Wendigo finds Nina a more disturbing blood-drinker for the way she cuts, probes, slurps and butchers dogs.

Is it a vampire movie if the blood-drinker doesn't see herself as one? Well, google "Renfield's Syndrome" and you're directed to a Wikipedia entry for "Clinical Vampirism," so I guess science is on the side of Daddy's Girl. It may be a tough sell to some, but Wendigo notes that this is probably what a real-world vampire would look like and act like. It's a minimalist vampire in the sense that it's about a person who drinks blood and has no more than a psychological dependence on doing so. If that doesn't seem like sufficient stuff for a horror film, Wendigo begs to remind you that people like Nina actually exist in our world. She's a vampire not just because she craves blood but because she destroys people by drinking it. She even becomes something like the archetypal "vamp" by adopting the fashions and hairstyle of Stephen's dead wife, the better to lure him into her ultimate trap. Even though Stephen's lust is transferred onto Nina's willing mother, Wendigo insists that Nina herself is the real seductress of the piece, with some of the compelling power of the vampire as well. Think of her as one of those "[blank] from Hell" villains from Lifetime Original Movies who manage to vampishly insinuate themselves into households, often seducing whole families in different ways in order to dominate or destroy them. I could easily imagine Lifetime remaking Daddy's Girl, though it'd probably have a happier ending.

To appreciate the film, Wendigo recommends thinking of it as a psychological mystery thriller that builds a feeling of dread as you begin to piece the clues to the truth together. Daddy's Girl is a work of moral horror, and in that sense he finds it not dissimilar to the Let the Right One In/Let Me In story, even if the British story has none of the traditional trappings. "Cravings's" failure with the public here and in Britain doesn't surprise Wendigo given the box office failure of Let Me In. While it may seem like vampires are more popular than ever, people are still particular about what sort of vampires they want to see, and unforgiving of those they don't want to see. But maybe the ones we don't care to look at tap into the real horrors we want to avoid. If so, films like Daddy's Girl might wear their present-day failures like a badge of honor in the future.

Here's a short U.S. trailer for "Cravings," uploaded to YouTube by ddirenzo1

No comments: