Posted on July 27, 2009 by Jason Thorson
Life-hating Goth girl Lara Baxter just turned 16. Her birthday party mojo never materializes after her more popular sister, Helen, steals her thunder. Shunned by her secret crush and neglected by her own mother, Lara retreats to the sanctuary of her altar to Ann Rice where she casts a spell on Helen. The next day Helen wakes up bleeding profusely from her nose and dies a short time later.
Just as the family begins to mourn, Helen comes back from the morgue delirious and with an insatiable thirst for blood. Older brother Raymond, a cross between Re-Animator’s Dr. Herbert West and Milwaukee’s own Jeff Dahmer, performs some tests on Helen’s blood in his bedroom/laboratory and determines that she’s a vampire.
This launches Thicker than Water into macabre territory as we follow the family and the lengths to which they’ll go to make sure Helen has all the sufficient vampire necessities.
The first thing that jumps out is that this movie is a true indie flick in every sense and as such it’s impressive. Phil Messerer, a writer with some professional television editing under his belt, wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited this project. The cinematography is ambitious at times, but not gratuitously, and the film looks beautiful with its rich colors and deep blacks. Despite an occasional awkward shot and uneven sound production throughout, Thicker than Water stands up well to other much higher budget films.
Messerer’s visual effects creator, Randall Leddy manages to make very little money go a long way in the gore department as well. The old school practical effects recall the days of using anything and everything to achieve the desired illusion and the results are nasty, realistic, and red. Thicker than Water isn’t at all driven by gore, but it has its share including various limb amputations, face removals, and a nice variety of projectile fluids and anatomical tidbits.
The cast is not surprisingly comprised of unknowns, none of whom stick out as incapable as is usually the case in similar films. In fact, Eilis Cahill and Devon Bailey, playing Lara and Helen respectively, are fantastic. Cahill’s performance is dynamic and nuanced, playing Lara as dark and dour, but also sympathetic, not to mention she’s our anchor to the narrative. Bailey’s Helen is also dynamic, beginning the movie as Mrs. Congeniality then evolving into a sickeningly deranged predator. It’s an extreme arc that elicits both cringes and empathy.
The tone of the movie is difficult to pin down until the full premise is revealed at the end of the first act. Messerer seems to straddle the horror-comedy fence until Helen returns from the dead at which point the tone becomes much more decidedly disturbing. This is where the narrative gathers strength as the film’s comedy elements feel inorganic and not altogether funny.
Messerer’s one undeniable misstep occurs in the film’s final act. For some reason, the irresistible urge to explain everything takes over and we’re given some poorly timed and badly executed exposition regarding the origins of Helen’s vampirism. Not only is this unnecessary, but it also compromises the narrative structure which is tight and allows the story to flow along nicely until this point. Unfortunately this prevents Thicker than Water from reaching its fullest potential.
Thicker than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 is a good movie. It offers much more in the way of emotional depth and complexity than most other micro-budget indie movies, particularly in the horror genre. Clearly, Phil Messerer and his collaborators have enormous potential and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
3.5 out of 5 flames
Review by Jason Thorson