A vampire needs blood to survive, it is the core defining element of the trope. So it makes sense that drinking blood must feel good to a vampire. It must feel so good that you could even call blood a vampire’s addiction.
Kicking Blood is a Canadian film examining just that idea. Shot in Sudbury, the film stars Alanna Bale (from Cardinal) as Anna, a centuries old vampire who’s become bored with her endless existence. Countless nights hunting for blood may leave her carnal desires satisfied, but it doesn’t do much else for her. When the film begins, she’s decided to involve herself more in local life, working at a library and making friends there.
— James Mackin @ TIFF (@JamesMackin10) September 10, 2021
While walking home one night, she encounters Robbie (played by Luke Bilyk from Degrassi: The Next Generation), a newly homeless alcoholic. She takes him home intending to drink his blood, and he decides to use his last moments alive to give up the drink permanently. If he’s going to die, he’s going to die on his own terms. Anna is intrigued, and inspired, by his actions.
She decides to take him in and nurse him through his withdrawal. His commitment to kicking alcohol leads her to decide to kick her addiction. But some fellow vampires she hunts with don’t, or aren’t willing to, understand her commitment to giving up the defining quality of vampirism. And once they find out she’s staying with a new supply of blood that’s not tainted by alcohol, the game is on.
Addiction is the main theme of the film, and it was top of mind for director Blaine Thurier (formerly of the New Pornographers) when he co-wrote and directed the film. Sharing the writer’s credit with Leonard Farlinger, Thurier says his experience living in Vancouver, a city with a large population of homeless drug addicts in the Downtown Eastside, inspired him to write the film.
“Everywhere you go, it’s a humane disaster. Homeless people damaged, they don’t have any options and they try to help themselves the best way that’s available to them, and that is often poisonous street drugs. And we’re not doing enough to help them.”
The desire to beat their addiction is the driving motivation for both main characters, with both the highs and lows of addiction shown in the film. The opening scene depicts Anna toying with her newest prey. When she goes in for that first sip of blood, it’s a kaleidoscopic high, filled with euphoria. As for Robbie, he shows the lows of addiction by embarrassing himself among friends and family. Even after he goes clean and tries to re-enter society, his former status as an addict keeps him alienated from those around him. They only see him as an addict.
Alienation and disconnection from others are also major themes of the film, both depicted with lots of lonely wide shots of Sudbury streets (where the film was shot). Frequently, Anna or Robbie will be the only character appearing in frame. But when they come together, the film shows us lots of tight close-ups of them. Through their struggle, they’ve found a connection. One may be a vampire, the other a recovering alcoholic, but they’ve found a kinship with each other.
Thurier adds that a major goal of the production was to highlight these themes through the use of colour. Red and blue are frequently surrounding both characters, Thurier says “red for the hot addicted bloody world of the vampires, and blue for the…open skies and a different kind of more human life, and how those can sort of clash and mix together.” These colours frequently mix as the characters become closer, similar to how the film mixes genres.
Alanna Bale says part of the appeal of working on this film was the mixing of genres. She says of reading the script, “…the way it read was sort of ambiguous, and I didn’t know if it was a horror or a thriller or a comedy or a drama. It was all mixed into one.”
Bale also thinks that while this is a film about vampires, it’s really about a universal experience we’ve all likely encountered. “I don’t think there’s a single human being who hasn’t experienced addiction or been around someone that has struggled with some sort of addiction.”