Vampire films have existed since the early days of film. The silent Nosferatu and early sound Dracula solidified it as a popular and important subgenre of the horror film. In the last decade, the vampire film has seen an unprecedented amount of popularity and yet it’s also been a very poor cycle of vampire films, in large part because the genre is completely out of touch with the times.
The power of the original vampire film was that it allowed the exploration of rampant sexual desire through the metaphor of the sharp-toothed, suave bloodsucker. In a day and age where almost every sexual act imaginable can, and has, end up on film in some form, it’s not enough to simply have vampires, there’s got to be more to it. The problem with Trouble Every Day is that there isn’t more to it.
This is partly because of Clair Denis’ sparse style. She is very daring in making a lot of this film plays out with very little dialogue. Large sections of this film could play out in silence and still be effective in achieving the ends the film is aiming for. As a technical craft, Denis has made a fantastic film. The problem is that as a story and a character study, Trouble Every Day is empty, left with shells of characters wandering around the film directionless and deeply troubled.
Denis seems more interested in the relationships between characters, the strains between Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) and June Brown (Tricia Vessey) as they go on their “honeymoon” or the dark relationship between Core (Beatrice Dalle) and Leo (Alex Descas). While these are complex, messed up relationships, none of the characters involve have personality or strike the audience as particularly memorable.
This leaves the audience a bit bewildered by the whole state of affairs. It’s a film that oozes with the veneer of empathy, but fails to actually win the audience over to any of its characters. It’s more interested in being “subtle” and not showing too much, which often means it doesn’t show enough. There is something cool about how much of the vampire aspect is left for the audience to infer and read between the frames, but it also makes a lot of the vampirism inexplicable and confusing.
Where Denis has no problem showing a lot is in the “sex” scenes. They’re very erotic, lingering on various close-ups of isolated parts, oozing with the desire that the sexual aggressor feels, whether that be a man or the woman. At some point, it becomes far too excessive as Denis spends more time sexualizing the bodies than she does building the characters that inhabit those bodies.
But the other side is that almost all these scenes end up being repulsive and disgusting, in large part because of the vampirism. It’s here that there seems to be a bit of justification for even having vampires in this film as it drastically changes the context in which these scenes happen and how the viewer ends up feeling about them. But the issue becomes whether or not vampires are needed to make the same point.
Perhaps by the very nature of the beast it comes across better this way. Audiences would probably take more issue with some sexual killer, but it still feels like the entire vampirism thing is a bit too overstated and on the nose these days. There’s no longer the desire to have vampires be subtle in any way, shape or form, which makes them a lot less compelling to watch than their ancestors of a bygone era.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing