Red Snow (2021)

After watching Red Snow, I find myself a little surprised it's not better known, which is another way of saying I had a blast watching it. This is a horror/comedy vampire movie, and - honestly - that's about all I want to tell you before dropping a *spoiler warning* and advising those of you who like this sort of thing to check it out.

Okay, I'll toss you a few more bones, in case you need more convincing. Or, in the case of those of you who are die-hard horror fans, perhaps a warning to temper your expectations. After all, this is a movie *I* really enjoyed, and - in case you've forgotten - I don't exactly have the best tolerance for scares, gore, and the like. Red Snow is absolutely the kind of R-rated horror movie that elicits complaints about not being gross or scary enough for a significant subset of the genre's fanbase. If that's a deal-breaker for you, you're probably better off skipping this. But for the rest of you, it's delightful. And, for what it's worth, it's not bereft of blood or jump scares: those simply aren't what's driving the film.

So, what is? It was pretty clear to me this movie was inspired by Lost Boys even before I skimmed Wikipedia and saw that director Sean Nichols Lynch has said as much. I also found myself thinking of Buffy quite a bit while watching this.

So if either of those are things you enjoy, or if you feel particularly inclined to trust my advice, now would be a good time to stop reading before I spoil the whole damn plot.

The movie's POV character is Olivia (played by Dennice Cisneros), an aspiring writer obsessed with vampires staying in a secluded house alone over Christmas. A few days before the holiday, she finds an injured bat on her porch and brings it into her garage. The next day, she discovers it's transformed into a man - still injured - with elongated canines. And unlike every other version of this you've ever seen in her life, she doesn't doubt or question for one second that she's found an actual vampire.

Before she can even talk with him, she's interrupted by an older man named Julius claiming to work for a detective agency looking for the man in her garage, along with his two friends. She claims she hasn't seen anyone and gets him to leave, then begins bonding with the vampire. His name is Luke (played by Nico Bellamy), and he's the film's secondary lead. He tells Olivia that Julius is the one who wounded him, and that - until he's strong enough - he'll almost certainly die if she throws him out. Both these things are true, incidentally, unlike some other details. For example, he claims to be essentially harmless (the trio of vampires he's with are most definitely killers), and he insists the agency Julius works for has killed so many vampires, he and his friends may be the last of their kind alive (not remotely true).

Olivia nurses Luke back to health with pig blood she buys from the local butcher. She also gives him some clothing belonging to her late mother, leading to several of the movie's best visual gags. She also gives him her manuscript to read, hoping to get some notes from an actual vampire.

But first Julius returns, attacks Olivia, and threatens to kill her if she won't take him to Luke. She brings him to the garage, and he attacks the injured vampire. Before he can kill Luke, Olivia knocks Julius out with a shovel, and Luke tears the man's throat out with his teeth.

Naturally, Olivia gets out of there and locks the door behind her. She does not, however, do anything else. Eventually, she's lured back to the garage when Luke offers to give her notes on her book.

On Christmas Eve, they eat dinner together (she brings him more pig blood), she gives him some actual men's clothing she bought (including a nice sweater), and they watch Scrooge. Towards the end of the movie, Olivia falls asleep on the couch, and we see Luke struggle with the instinct to bite her. But he really does care for Olivia, and he suppresses the urge. That night, his friends, Brock and Jackie, show up and force their way in. Actually, in the case of Jackie, "friend" is a bit of an understatement - she's Luke's lover and the de facto leader of their group. The movie implies she may have some kind of supernatural influence over them, though it's never fully confirmed. Luke tries to fight to help Olivia, but in his weakened state Brock is easily able to restrain him. Luckily for Olivia, Jackie's more interested in mind games than killing her outright, so she's given enough of a head start to reach Julius's car, which is still parked on the street. She gets away and contacts the agency Julius worked for, though there's nothing they'd be able to do for months.

Meanwhile, the three vampires go hunting at Jackie's command. They find three teenage boys, lure them into an isolated field, and kill them. Luke is the most brutal of all, tearing the head from his victim.

Pissed off, Olivia returns home armed with Julius's equipment. She manages to kill Brock but is quickly disarmed by Jackie. Once again Luke fights to protect her, but Jackie catches him off guard and wounds him. This gives Olivia enough time to reach the kitchen, where she retrieves a wooden stake/cross made of skewers she stashed there early in the movie. She manages to plunge it into Jackie's heart before the vampire can finish her off.

Olivia then retrieves a crossbow she brought from Julius's car and points it at Luke. She tells him she'll kill him if he lies to her and asks him several questions, to which he responds honestly, assuring her she won't turn into a vampire despite being bitten by Jackie during the fight, saying he really cares about her, and most important that he really liked her book (aside from some issues they'd discussed earlier). Olivia relaxes for a moment then sees the sweater she gave him for Christmas, now covered in blood from the prior night.

She shoots him in the chest.

We then jump ahead ten months to a book signing - Olivia has become a successful novelist. The head of the agency Julius worked for offers to recruit her, but she turns him down, saying she'd rather write about vampires than hunt them. After the signing, she returns home and brings a cup of pig's blood to her garage, where she has Luke - still alive, albeit barely - chained to a chair, where she keeps him as her "muse."

Yeah, I know that sounds twisted and joyless in an outline, but I assure you the actual movie is twisted but oddly joyful. The first half, particularly, is an absolute pleasure to watch as it walks a tightrope between romantic comedy and horror, never giving away where it's going to end up. The movie gets a great deal of mileage out of the fact you're so fixated on which side of the ethical line Luke's ultimately going to land on, that you're inclined to overlook some troubling actions Olivia takes. It helps that Cisneros plays her as a nerdy, affable fangirl caught up in her excitement at seeing a fantasy creature she's been obsessed with her entire life in reality. And likewise, we empathize with her reluctance to trust Luke, even before it's confirmed he's indeed every bit the monster Julius claimed.

What all this accomplishes is to control how we view each of their roles, a sleight-of-hand trick that keeps us from seeing the bigger picture until the end. This is, after all, a horror story in which someone in need of help finds a secluded abode, is welcomed in by the owner (with the stipulation his movement inside is limited), eventually trusts the owner despite several red flags, then ultimately learns the hard way he'll never be permitted to leave.

It's a classic vampire motif, with the roles reversed. That's clever.

I should acknowledge you could also view this through the lens of horror criticizing the way authors have effectively transformed the mythic vampire into something commodified and controlled. I'm not sure I buy that interpretation, though - the movie takes pains to distance itself from Meyer and other paranormal romance authors, despite Olivia's approach bearing some similarities. There's a fairly pointed line that seems present to reinforce the idea that grouping female vampire novelists into a category is sexist, so I'm skeptical the movie was doing anything of the sort.

Now then. Let's talk Christmas.

On the surface, the holidays are primarily used to highlight and contrast the genre mashup. This is, after all, both a horror movie and a romantic comedy (though perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's a horror movie masquerading as a romantic comedy), with the holidays serving as a visual representation of the romcom end of the spectrum. This is most directly exemplified when Olivia expresses anger late in the movie that she has to fight vampires at a time she's supposed to be enjoying the festive season.

But of course, there's a lot more going on here. Historically, the Christmas season was absolutely one in which vampirism and other forms of horror were believed to be active. The bleak, cold winter was widely associated with supernatural terror in the areas of Europe vampire myths originated from, so their presence here is extremely appropriate.

Though, honestly, I have no idea if the filmmakers realized that. The movie doesn't seem to directly reference historical connections between the undead and the Christmas season, so maybe they just thought setting one of these at Christmas was amusing.

Regardless, this one's smart, funny, and most of all enjoyable to watch. Aside from a few awkward lines early on dropping some exposition about Olivia's background, the writing here is extremely good. The strongest asset, however, is the two leads - Cisneros and Bellamy are great here, each portraying characters who don't quite fit into any of the molds you expect.

Red Snow is a masterclass on low-budget filmmaking, building a satisfying movie out of a premise that only needs a handful of characters in a confined space. This is definitely worth checking out.