Iwai Shunji
Artsy but alienating quasi-horror film offers a non-supernatural alternative to Count Dracula.

Iwai Shunji's venture into bloodsucking territory introduces challenges, but ultimately goes unexplored in story and performance.

PARK CITY — Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition — Delicately made but hewing to a strange, unsympathetic vision, the psychological horror film Vampire is uncommercial even in the current craze for bloodsuckers, though it could find appreciative audiences in a limited niche run and on video.

Surprisingly professional-looking for a movie on which Japanese auteur Iwai Shunji did at least six jobs himself, it offers a coherent (if hermetic) aesthetic but suffers from uneven acting. Viewers won't be surprised to learn this is the director's first English-language film.

The protagonist, an awkwardly quiet twentysomething named Simon (Kevin Zegers, giving no hint of the character's motivations) is not a vampire in the usual sense; he's not quite a Vampire's Kiss-style nut, either. He's a calm, deliberate man, conscientious in his way, who kills young women and drinks their blood.

The twist here is that he only kills those who want to die -- usually meeting them on a web site for suicidal youths -- and drains their blood with morgue-like care, storing in a fridge what he doesn't consume (and sometimes vomit up) at the scene.

The encounters we view are tender and sad, weird but convincing on their own terms. Things are dicier elsewhere in the film, where outsiders threaten Simon's successful string of killings: subplots involving his delusional would-be-girlfriend (Rachael Leigh Cook) and a showier, more vicious self-styled vampire (Trevor Morgan) serve a purpose but could have used more thought.

Iwai flirts with the erotic side of vampirism in one or two scenes, and presents Simon with some emotional challenges that suggest moral conflict. But those elements are underexplored, both in the script and through performances, making Vampire too superficial to get under viewers' skin.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Production Company: Rockwell Eyes, Inc.
Cast: Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Adelaide Clemens, Trevor Morgan, Aoi Yu, Amanda Plummer, Kristin Kreuk, Rachael Leigh Cook
Director-screenwriter-producer-music-director of photography-editor: Iwai Shunji
Producer: Tim Kwok
Production designer: Alexandra Rojek
Costume designer: Tanya Lipke
Sales: Fortissimo Films
No rating, 118 minutes