TIFF Review: 'Kicking Blood' Finds the Gothic Menace in Sudbury, ON Directed by Blaine Thurier

Starring Alanna Bale, Luke Bilyk, Vinessa Antoine, Ella Jonas Farlinger, Benjamin Sutherland, Rosemary Dunsmore
TIFF Review: 'Kicking Blood' Finds the Gothic Menace in Sudbury, ON Directed by Blaine Thurier
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Blaine Thurier's Kicking Blood works on so many levels, audiences will keep on wishing for a sense of irony or a subtle one-liner until the last minute. But even if it's not perfect, it's still well worth watching. Thanks to breathtaking cinematography, a beguiling delivery by lead Alanna Bale, and a to-die-for soundtrack, this vampire tale about the parallels between blood-sucking and addiction is saved from its predictable script.

Bale plays Anna, an ennui-filled vampire who works her days away in a subterranean library. One night, as she's walking home, Anna meets Robbie (Luke Bilyk), a suicidal alcoholic. Anna initially plans on getting high off Robbie's blood, but his readiness to die throws her off. They become friends, and together crawl toward sobriety, one kicking alcohol, the other trying to kick blood.

Visually, Kicking Blood is like if Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was set in Sudbury, ON — that is, it looks amazing. Cinematographer Jonathon Cliff turns the city into an impossibly barren urban landscape, full of apocalyptically desolate shadows cast by industrial structures with their towers of billowing smoke. The thick black ice on the sidewalks, turning the velvet shadows into deep pools of nothingness, seems to reflect Anna's loneliness and lack of meaning back to her. Then there's the stunning soundscape (by Daniel Pellerin, Jeremy Fong, Jonathon St. Clair): it's rugged and electric, at times symphonic, and in every way evocative of rollicking gothic vampire novels. 

As a character, Anna is super compelling, much more so than Robbie. Bale steals the show with her expressive face. Bale's Anna is like Brad Pitt's Louis in Interview with the Vampire — a tragic and curious soul with a nagging conscience. 

The snag with Kicking Blood — with all its sumptuous elements, intelligent references, contextually rich sonic and visual storytelling — is its narrative storytelling. The screenplay (by Thurier and Leonard Farlinger) is very much on-the-nose, full of platitudes, telling more than it shows. Often, one expects a wry joke, but scenes that build up to an irony that never comes. Still, this skeletal script can easily be overlooked — perhaps it's intended to be camp? — for the beautiful visuals, stellar sound and a star-making performance from Bale.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website.