DVD Review: Umbrage: The First Vampire
Umbrage: The First Vampire (2009)
Distributor: Left Films
DVD Release Date: 17th October 2011
Director: Drew Cullingham
Starring: Doug Bradley, Rita Ramani, Jonnie Hurn, Natalia Celino
Review by: Aaron Williams
We open on a sweeping shot of a forest, a Jeep steadily working its way along rocky roads. Cut to inside the moving car and we focus on a young woman with dark flowing hair which covers an expression that says ‘God, life’s hard’ as a gentle bluegrass song whines over the soundtrack. This is Rachael and she’s about to be relocated to a new home with her step parents in the mountains..
As hard as this reviewer tries to steer clear of mentioning a certain tween pop phenomenon film franchise or hit HBO series whenever another vampire flick surfaces, the similarities here in the first twenty minutes are near impossible to ignore. Even the now infamous font used on all the posters with R-Patz’ gormless mug brooding out at us has been mimicked in the opening credits. So, do we have another shameless direct to DVD cash in on our hands here?
We’ve heard this premise in horror over a trillion times now – the dysfunctional family moves out to a dream home, probably running from their problems and hoping to hide from them in this new isolated dream home. Jacob (Bradley) is an antiques dealer who seems to have an unsettling relationship with his step daughter Rachael (Ramani) and it seems that things wont get any better as they begin to bicker almost immediately after they arrive. Meanwhile, a couple of friends are out on a camping trip and run into a mysterious woman (Celino) who claims to be an ornithologist camping nearby. As things heat up back at the family cabin, a cowboy (Hurn) seems to have materialised in their barn, perhaps something to do with a ominous black mirror that Jacob has brought with him.
Once I set my eyes on the trailer and cover art for Umbrage, I couldn’t have been any more surprised how they differ from the film itself. They promise rootin’ tootin’ blood, guts, tits and ass with a side order of undead demon fun. Instead, we get a Gothic family drama and slow burn vampire yarn hybrid. If that sounds a little vague, I apologise but its pretty hard to nail what this films is trying to achieve. The oddly muddled tone will leave even the most forgiving of vampire fanatics in an unforgiving mood. As for thrill seekers, seek elsewhere as every single bit of violence occurs off-screen, probably a symptom of the film’s micro-budget roots. There’s also a misplaced sense of romanticism that for seems to stop the film dead. It seems to have been edited by either a first time editor or someone suffering from severe narcolepsy as shots last way too long – no, not like a Gus Van Sant film- and we fade out at seemingly random moments.
I have to constantly remind myself to remove my Hellraiser fan-boy tinted specs when watching Bradley when I see him in other films. Like Robert Englund and the rest of his ilk, they pretty much always seem to flounder like a fish out of water when appearing before the camera without their familiar costume and make up. But overall the performances are not embarrassing by any means unlike other bargain basement direct to DVD disasters.
Despite its all too obvious flaws (and making pretty much no sense whatsoever) there is an inexplicable charm to be found in Umbrage if you have the patience. This was indeed a curious oddity amidst more blatant and shameless straight to DVD cash-ins on the vampire obsessed market that exists today.
Any decent film script starts with a simple idea but if the execution is not there then that idea will probably get lost and the result will be muddled at best and Umbrage may have fallen to such folly. I’m sure there’s a killer blend of the old west and horrific vampire fun to be found out there somewhere but Umbrage isn’t it. Love it or hate it you’ll be pretty safe in assuming this cultural thirst for vampiric romanticism will now be recorded as one of the significant movements in horror just like the post modern slasher, the unrelenting remake frenzy or the growing ‘found footage’ trend. I’m not suggesting we all swallow this pill – though some of you may happily do so – but we can look forward to the next attempt to put the bite back.
You can catch it on DVD on the 17th of October and Lionsgate will be releasing it in the US in early 2012.