27 February 2002 | jhclues
One You Can Sink Your Teeth Into
If vampire tales are your cup of blood, then this Goth-fest based on the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles should prove to be a satisfying experience. A veritable consortium of the undead in a contemporary setting, `Queen of the Damned,' directed by Michael Rymer, is a story of shadows and darkness, and of the unfortunate souls who dwell therein for eternity.
The vampire Lestat (Stuart Townsend), bored with a world that no longer excites him, has been `asleep' for many years; but suddenly, the sounds of that world he hears from his extended slumber change, and liking what he hears, he ventures forth to investigate. What he finds is a world filled with new sounds, a new kind of music-- driving and penetrating-- sounds that assault the senses and make him feel alive and welcome. And he knows that at long last his time has come, that it is time for him and those like him to come out into the open and face the world on their terms. Toward that end he becomes the front man for a band-- a singer and performer unlike any the world has ever known. He presents himself as a vampire, and very quickly amasses a following that extends far beyond London (where it all begins), and will ultimately take him to Death Valley, California, where he plans to give a concert that promises to be beyond anything anyone has ever seen or experienced.
Lestat is powerful, without question, but there are those of his kind who do not take favorably to the fact that he has revealed them, one of whom is Marius (Vincent Perez), a vampire powerful in his own right-- the vampire, in fact, who `made' Lestat so many years before-- and they are gathering, coming together and making their plans to meet Lestat at the concert. And they are not going for the music. But there is something else, as well: At one point Lestat has inadvertently awakened the `Mother' of them all, the most powerful of all the vampires, Akasha (Aaliyah), who is about to make her presence known to all, and especially to the one she has chosen to rule by her side as her King: Lestat. And at the concert, rest assured, Akasha will be in attendance, without fail.
Make no mistake, this is Lestat's story, and Rymer presents it amid a setting rich with atmosphere and with some exquisite moments, though his film has less bite to it than say, `Interview With the Vampire,' or `Bram Stoker's Dracula.' He sets a good pace, and there are some scenes that provide some real thrills, but overall the film isn't as soaked in menace as it could be, or as much as one might expect. In the final tally, in fact, the amount of flesh that is incinerated wins out over actual blood-letting, though there is more than a taste of gore, and more than a fair share of lips and mouths dripping with the red stuff. There's some good F/X on hand, too, especially in the sequences that accentuate the speed of the vampires, as they move and hurtle through the air faster than the naked eye can discern. It's a decent job by Rymer, but he could have put more teeth into it had he played up the alienation hinted at by Lestat; as it is, you get a sense of his detachment, but not enough to get you totally involved.
In `Interview With the Vampire,' Tom Cruise brought some charismatic star power to the role of Lestat, but Townsend is even more effective, with a look and an attitude that captures Lestat perfectly. He plays him with a sense of acceptance, and under closer scrutiny you may even find a hint of remorse and longing. It's a good performance, and one that sells his character convincingly.
As Marius, Vincent Perez does a nice job, too-- he is, in fact, one of the strengths of the film-- though his character is a bit ambiguous; that, however, has more to do with the way he was written than with Perez's performance, which is quite good.
Turning in noteworthy performances, as well, are Marguerite Moreau, as Jesse, a young woman too curious for her own good; and the gorgeous Lena Olin as Maharet, Jesse's Aunt, who ultimately plays a pivotal role in the outcome of the drama involving Lestat and Akasha.
And as Akasha, Aaliyah is an absolutely riveting presence. What more can one say about her other than she is a gifted performer, with tremendous talent and beauty. And, tragically, she has left us much too soon.
The supporting cast includes Paul McGann (David), Christian Manon (Mael), Claudia Black (Pandora), Bruce Spence (Khayman), Matthew Newton (Armand), Tiriel Mora (Roger) and Megan Dorman (Maudy). With a much stronger story than the usual offerings of this particular genre, Anne Rice fans, especially, will be pleased with `Queen of the Damned,' a film nicely crafted and delivered by director Rymer and his engaging cast. By focusing attention on the drama of the story-- and the way it's presented-- rather than concentrating on merely providing some cheap thrills, Rymer has succeeded in turning out a true horror film that is definitely a cut above, and one that just may whet your appetite for more of the same. And that's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 7/10.