Perfect Creature (2006), which Glenn Standring singelhandedly wrote and directed, apparently did not get a decent commercial release in the United States; none of the major papers reviewed it (New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, so on and so forth), none of the major critics (Roger Ebert for one (not that I consider him authoritative in any way on matters of cinema--only that he has a popular TV show and some pull at the boxoffice)) gave it any attention (or even a brief mention). "Straight to video" is the term I'm looking for, I think, which does not bode well for the movie's quality.
Or does it? Sometimes one finds a gem in the discounted DVD bin. King of the Ants (2003) suffered a similar fate: Stuart Gordon's compelling little exploitation flick showed us the kind of terror that can be conjured from a malevolent George Wendt (unrecognizable without his overstuffed business suit, or the calls of "Norm!" trailing in his sizable wake) and a simple golf club. The film took Gordon's gift for Lovecraftian grotesquerie in films like Re-animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Dagon (2001) and inserted them into decidedly more realistic (read: suburban) settings; it gave us a charmingly sympathetic hero (Chris McKenna) doing decidedly unsympathetic things (stalking women, murder), provoking all kinds of complex feelings from us along the way (Is McKenna a creep? A horrifically helpless victim? Some inextricable combination of both?).
Perfect Creatures doesn't inspire that kind of fascination, but does show considerable ambition--it's not our future the film depicts, but some kind of steampunk variation of it. High-tech dirigibles glide across the sky; policemen wield what look like Luger pistols; people drive '40s-style cars down streets overshadowed by towering Gothic constructions. Vampires are not just real, they're an accepted and vital part of society. They have formed an elite class called The Brotherhood and established a comfortable symbiotic relationship with their mortal brethren: humans (in a parody of the Catholic Eucharist) offer up their blood willingly for consumption, while The Brothers offer theirs as a means of curing human diseases and prolonging life.
It's a conceit worthy of Joss Whedon, that master integrator of wildly different genres (vampirism and the teen angst flick (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)); Westerns and pirate flicks with science fiction (Firefly, 2002, and the feature film made from it three years later)) in such a way that they comment on each other, mutually reinforce each other, give each other fresh nuances that each alone otherwise wouldn't have. Would that Standring have imbibed some of Whedon's wit, or consistent hand with a story. Standring posits a world with vampires and humans in harmonious balance; that balance is thrown off by Edgar (Leo Gregory), a vampire gone berserk: he goes around openly attacking people and drinking their blood (the victims obligingly spray their blood around in arterial spurts--startling at first but you'd be surprised how quickly that gets old).
Edgar turns out to be a pawn in a greater conspiracy staged by The Brotherhood--but the details don't really matter, because when all is finally revealed it doesn't carry a lot of dramatic weight. Partly that's because the actors (Dougray Scott as Edgar's dour older brother Silus; Saffron Burrows as Silus' equally dour love interest and police-officer-slash-crimefighting-partner Lilly) have been ordered to pitch the emotional tone in their performance at a level slightly above icewater (only Edgar is told otherwise, with his emotional dial nailed at "massive landscape mastication"). Partly it's because the details are so fuzzy: The Brotherhood, we're told, is corrupt, evil, repressive, but aside from the odd revelation here and there, we don't really see what they do (it doesn't help that other than Silus and Edgar, no other member of The Brotherhood really stand out--it's like fighting shadows, only shadows in the right director's hands (Stuart Gordon comes to mind) might present a more palpable threat). And the battles are predictably one-sided: Silus sets up one trap after another, some of them well-planned; Edgar pops up and promptly whips Silus' butt; Silus barely escapes by the skin of his teeth. Pause; repeat cycle again, and again, and again. One wonders: are the two really brothers, or has Silus been less than straight with us? Is Silus congenitally incapable of at all handling his younger brother, or has the virus brought everyone's IQ level except Edgar's down to single digits?
There are compensatory scenes, I think--Edgar's escape, for one (he's held prisoner in one of the picture's genuinely brilliant designs, a personal restraint system built on the principle of the falcon's claw: struggle, and sharp projections dig deeper into one's throat); Edgar and Silus facing each other down (Gregory's and Scott's glowering brows are a memorable match) and taunting the other to make the first move. Sometimes a moment feels right, like when Silus contemplates Lilly's sleeping arm--he gazes at a gently pulsing vein, then gives the wrist a cautious sniff.
For the most part, though, Standring pads out the picture's running time with gimmicky camera moves borrowed from Sam Riami's Evil Dead movies (you know what I mean--point-of-view shots that skitter from one ventilation shaft to the next, sometimes nosing past a squeaking rat, sometimes zooming close on a man cocking his gun) to indicate superhuman senses, and fills the many dead spots with aforementioned pointless fight sequences where Edgar keeps winning. Perfect Creatures comes close to being a good movie; it comes so close one could almost smell with one's nose how close it is, missing a few centimeters at a time, all the time.
First appeared in Businessworld, the Weekender section, on 5/15/08