PLOT: Alex and Livia are a French couple enjoying vacation in Romania. But when Alex is suddenly struck by a car one day, he slowly transmutes into fang-toothed ghoul with a thirst for human blood. How will Livia handle the news?
REVIEW: Holy F*ck! Who knew the deepest darkest secret kept under Romanian lock and key is that, when you get hit by a car in their country, you turn into a vampire? Jesus Crimminy! Such a dopey notion is the basic conceit of CHIMERES, Olivier Beguin's new Swiss horror film - a movie I liked perhaps a bit more than I should, for the more I think about it in retrospect, the more truly asinine it becomes. Still, for a low-budget sophomore effort with only a few locations and eight total credited cast members - CHIMERES does a lot of things right, particularly in its intimate micro-examination of a how a how a couple in a true love would handle one of them suddenly becoming a no-shit, for real, blood-thirsty vampire. If the flick had stayed on that dramatic course, it would have been much better. Unfortunately, the subpar CG and forced attempt to sate basic vampire conventions undercut the overall experience and turn something pretty original into a rather rote revenge tale.
We open on a beautiful Belgian cityscape. Alex (Yannick Rosset) and Liv (Jasna Kohoutova) are obviously smitten with each other, kissing, smiling, photographing the surrounding monuments. Love is in the air. When the two divert their vacation to Romania though, Liv's hometown, Alex feels a bit out of place. Luckily his mother Michelle (legendary Catriona MacColl) is nearby and can offer a little solace. Things are looking up. But then, one day, Alex gets blindsided by a car in the street. Strange bruises start to appear. He starts seeing visions of an alternate self in the mirror. His eyes glowing blue. Fangs protruding. More bruises. Sunlight becomes a problem. What the hell is happening? When Liv presses the matter, Alex confesses he thinks he may be morphing into flesh-starved ghoul. She ain't buying it, so as a test, she slits her own wrist, pours a double shot of fresh blood and puts it on the table in front of Alex. He downs that shite like Bukowski and starts to feel better almost instantly. She's a believer. And not just a believer...a lover, supporter and dedicated companion as well.
I won't spoil too much more, but suffice it to say, as Alex's penchant for human blood continues to grow, he's tasked with finding fresh bodies to rip apart and feast upon. This becomes problematic for morally conscious reasons, among others, and it's really that dramatic small-scale interplay between Alex transforming and Livia compromising and coming to grips with it, that the film is most interesting. Their struggle to maintain a loving relationship while still placing priority on Alex's escalating condition - keeping him shrouded, finding fresh blood, diverting his mother, etc. - was a really fresh and interesting and way of melding exploitative horror and pensive drama. In that sense, the flick kind of reminded me of CONTRACTED, which also did a splendid job of showing an intimate, day-to-day transition from unsuspecting human to murderous monster. Problem is, Beguin either felt obligated to pepper the flick with stock-standard horror fare, or felt too insecure with the action-less drama strand to sustain it throughout. When the atrocious CG takes hold, particularly the visions Alex has in the mirror, the flick immediately loses steam and becomes your typical vampire outing.
But that's not to say all the gore was ineffective. There's a couple scenes toward the end that really deliver some gnarly throat-gouging and gruesome stomach-shredding, nothing we haven't seen before though. The real issue is, when we get to the nasty bits, they all but render the serious tone that came before it from ceasing to be. We go from serious to silly too turbulently, and the tonal inconsistency is what makes the overall experience uneven. Had the flick chosen one of the two routes - either a full on drama about lovelorn vampires dealing with one's sudden transformation...or a completely off-the-rails, action-packed vampire revenge picture, I believe the results would be more uniform. As it is, a shaky middle-ground is tilled in a way that pushes neither strand as far as needs to go to be truly fertile. That said, I do give the flick extra props for employing scant dialogue, the last act in particular. I've said it before, but film is a show me, not tell me medium - and with large stretches toward the end of CHIMERES almost entirely devoid of speaking lines - I was reminded how difficult it is to keep a viewer invested with only images. For the most part, CHIMERES succeeded in that regard.
In all, I'm giving CHIMERES a mild recommendation to those who dig on low-budget foreign horror. Let's be clear, this isn't a great movie, but given its limited resources and somewhat original premise (at least early on), it's not a bad way to spend 80 odd minutes. Because it's such a small film, I would have personally liked to see the flick maintain the very intimacy it started with, instead of ultimately devolving into another same-old-same-old vampire scourge we've seen hundreds of times before. I also would prefer the first half to be sustained all the way through because of the convincing acting of the two leads, specifically Jasna Kohoutova. She was totally believable, not to mention tantalizingly topless halfway through as well. Can't hate that. Seriously though, had the movie picked one tone and one narrative thread to follow - instead of combing two opposites - CHIMERES would probably be more memorable over time.