Phil Messerer is a jack of all trades when it comes to film. He wrote, directed, shot and edited Thicker than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 all on his own, and on a shoestring budget. Such is the life of the modern indie filmmaker, and he does most of those jobs admirably. The story is basically a rehash of the cult-classic werewolf film Ginger Snaps, looking at family relationships through the lens of vampires this time instead of big fuzzy beasties. When the goth-girl’s perfect twin sister dies, she comes back as a vampire and her family tries to be supportive. We should all be so lucky to have families like that.
The film dwells for a little too long on some aspects of the Baxters’ family life, however. The opening sequences show us a dysfunctional family ready to blow its top as mom and dad announce their separation over Thanksgiving Dinner. Then there’s a birthday party, and a quick tour of the small town they all live in before we see any bloodshed. The story is also hampered by a hackneyed vampire mythology, told by a narrator over some great engraving artwork by Rostislav Spitkovsky. Essentially, ancient Mayan sacrifice is used as a cover for feeding an ancient vampire, and the book that tells us this story mysteriously has landed in this small town in a curio shop frequented by the goth sister, Lara. It’s a retread of White Wolf’s Mexico City by Night with an attempt to base it in history rather than straight horror.
Speaking of distractions, the music in the film often feels like an unwelcomed guest. Piano interludes by Messerer’s father linger too long in otherwise great scenes, and some sequences are little more than music videos for a bad Creed knock-off. The music is admittedly better than what you find in some indie flicks, but it is outdated and doesn’t add to either the horror or the humor Messerer is trying for. Finally, while a lot of the cinematography is excellent, the editing was disjointed and jumped without any real purpose other than to call attention to itself. This comes across as a directorial conceit, and had Messerer left the cutting up to someone else, the film might have had a better flow.
All in all, Thicker than Water isn’t a bad film. Having judged b-horror film and other festivals in the past, I can certainly say that this is one of the better low-budget horror films out there. Messerer manages to squeak out a coherent, well-crafted story about a family dealing with a vampire with only a handful of distractions that most b-film fans will ignore anyway. Even though the characters don’t all mesh, and the story lingers in places, there are still some great moments I think many will enjoy. In particular, the scene with the Mormon missionaries is one you shouldn’t miss, and I’m curious enough that I’ll likely check out Part 2 when it is completed.
Final verdict (out of 5):