Director Amy Heckerling captured the voice of a generation with the 80’s hit Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the 90’s, she struck gold again with a modern version of Jane Austin’s Emma called Clueless. Her latest film, Vamps, starring Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter, is an odd film that wants to be cute and charming but also be a commentary on modern society, however, it doesn’t really succeed with either.
Alicia Silverstone is Goody, a 120 year-old vampire living as a modern girl in New York City with her newly turned vamp bestie Stacy (Krysten Ritter). The two have sworn off humans in favor of rats, which they drink like a furry Capri Sun. Shunning the traditional name vampire they prefer to be called ELF’s, Eternal Life Forms. The two spend their evenings going to college, working for an extermination company and going to ELF support groups, where they are joined by Vlad Tempesh (Malcolm McDowell) who now spends his time knitting.
For the most part, the girls have a good life. Unfortunately, their maker is a crazy ego-maniac by the name of Cisserus (Sigourney Weaver). And while all the other ELF’s are trying to keep a low profile, Cisserus is living the high life and drawing much attention to herself, meaning it’s only a matter of time before Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn) finds them. To further complicate matters, Stacy starts dating Joey (Dan Stevens), Dr. Van Helsing’s son. The girls must figure out how make it in this crazy modern world without their secret being exposed.
It’s important with any vampire film to understand the kind of vampire you are dealing with. And smartly, most of it’s vampire troupes come from the Dracula legend. These vamps can’t go in the sun, sleep in dirt from their home town, can hypnotise people and climb down walls. So you’ll be glad to know, there aren’t any sparkling vampires here.
It’s pretty obvious for the get go that Vamps desperately wants to be Vamps in the City. It tries so hard to be hip and trendy in the same way that, Fast Times and Clueless were but Heckerling has an agenda and it’s a weird one. If there is one message to gleam from Vamps, it’s that all this modern technology is a waste of our time. Goody is Heckerling’s mouthpiece and she takes every chance she can to chide the other character and us, the audience, for spending time using Facebook, Twitter, SMS and texting instead of talking to each other.
Heckerling is still trading off her two hits as she attempts to recapture that magic of her earlier films but doesn’t quite capture the right tone. Her heavy handed anti-social media slant feels forced. The first couple of mentions it’s cute as you see Goody trying to understand how to cope with modern society, but when you get the same comment six or seven times, you want to cry out “enough, I get it.” and, unfortunately, the film feels as out of touch with modern trends as Goody’s 120 year-old vampire.
The saving grace of the flick has to be the charming performances from the two leads. Alicia Silverstone brings back the cutesy wide-eyed innocent nature of Clueless’ Cher. She may be a little too old for this kind of role but it’s one we are familiar with and it mostly works. But Krysten Ritter is the real standout here, she brings the same kind of fun, flighty performance that helped make “B—- in Apt. 23” a success in the States. She is Cher’s window into the modern world and gives us an understanding of the vampire world.
Proving that she’ll take any role offered these days, Sigourney Weaver is easily the weak link. It’s not entirely her fault. Her role almost feels like an afterthought in the film and whenever she shows up because the film is massively derailed. When the film focuses on the two leads trying to make it as Vamps in the City, it has a lot of charm and joy. Then Weaver pops up and everything just falls apart.
All in all, Vamps is a very disposable film and is basically forgotten the moment you leave the theatre. It’s almost as if Goody has hypnotised you to forget the experience in order to get you watch again and again. Saying that though, the movie would make a great rental for a girls night or a couple looking for a new twist on rom-coms.
Vamps screened at the Fantastik Filmfestival in Lund, Sweden. The festival is from 20-29 September. Go to fff.se to see the festival lineup.