If you asked me to list vampire movies, I could probably talk for an hour before starting to run out of steam. From Max Schreck’s freaky Count Orlok to Wesley Snipe’s ass-kicking Blade, the genre has been sucked dry by vampires of all shapes and sizes, with their affliction representing addiction, wanton sexuality, and everything in between. It’s tough to make a vampire movie that stands out from the crowd these days, but writer-director Sean Nichols Lynch found a way with his charming horror-comedy Red Snow.
Making its world premiere at Panic Fest 2021, Red Snow centers around Olivia Romo (Dennice Cisneros), a passionate writer of vampire romance novels who is struggling to get publishers to take notice. It’s almost Christmas and Olivia is hunkered down in the house her mother left her beside Lake Tahoe, working on her novel and ignoring her sister’s phone calls about how she needs to settle down and start a family. That’s when she discovers an injured bat and tries to nurse it back to health — stumbling upon a real vampire, and her new muse, in the process.
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“…throats are punctured and heads ripped clean off. Don’t let the whiff of romance fool you — this is still a horror film.”
Red Snow struck a chord for me in a way that it might not for everyone. Perhaps it’s because I’m friends with more than a few writers of romance novels, erotica, and fan fiction (hell, I might have even dabbled in the field myself, who can say?), and I know how easy it is for films to have cruel fun at their expense. Red Snow doesn’t go down that lazy route. While Olivia’s childlike excitement about meeting a real vampire is incredibly endearing, she’s just as smart and capable as she is sweet. When her new houseguest needs blood, she immediately thinks of a solution that won’t risk her own neck (literally). When the going gets tough, she doesn’t get going. What’s more, Lynch’s script never paints her chosen profession as silly. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is mentioned, but not with derision. And Olivia might have a drawer full of rejection letters, but she’s not going to let that stop her from pursuing her dream, even if she has to do some unconventional research to get what she wants.
That research comes in the form of Luke (Nico Bellamy), the vampire Olivia has locked in her garage. Luke, too, is a little more complex than first meets the eye. Though Red Snow isn’t overly concerned with making its vampires unique (other than a few light twists on the accepted lore), Luke is interesting in that he starts out as a dangerous animal only to soften into a sensitive, romance-novel-worthy vampire boyfriend as his bloodlust abates and his fondness for Olivia grows. He even chooses himself a pastel-pink dress and furry coat out of the pile of old clothes Olivia brings him to wear, seeming totally comfortable and unabashed in these garments. But is this the real Luke, or is this another mask worn by a predator to lull its prey into a false sense of security?
No character’s motives are entirely black or white in Red Snow. This isn’t always handled successfully — an attempt to paint vampire hunter Julius King (Vernon Wells) as a real swell guy after we’ve seen him attacking a woman rings a little hollow — but for the most part, it keeps the story engaging and leaves you guessing about how it will all end. And speaking of colors, the film certainly earns the red in its title, spilling plenty of blood as throats are punctured and heads ripped clean off. Don’t let the whiff of romance fool you — this is still a horror film.
Olivia is not the sort of protagonist we’re used to in horror, and Cisneros does a fantastic job bringing all her quirks and insecurities to life, never losing the beating heart of the character. Bellamy plays off her energy perfectly, bringing a lot of dry humor to the role and turning what could have been a fairly generic character into a memorable one. The arrival of Laura Kennon’s Jackie, another vampire (and a mean one at that), throws a fun wrench into their relationship and allows us to see another dimension of Luke. And despite the limited cast and setting, Red Snow never falls into the trap of making us sit through endless boring conversations, with the lean runtime (80 minutes) and clever script keeping the pacing snappy.
“…if you’re down for something a little sweet mixed in with all that tangy blood, Red Snow is a real treat.”
I know that the tale of a romance novelist mixed up with vampires won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re down for something a little sweet mixed in with all that tangy blood, Red Snow is a real treat. It doesn’t reinvent the vampire wheel, but the unwillingness to compromise on Olivia’s character and the deliciously satisfying ending make this a refreshingly rare gem in its own right.
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